OAKLAND, Calif. –When Kevin Cash walked to the end of the Rays dugout Wednesday night after making a decision he never figured he'd have to, he knew Nathan Eovaldi wasn't going to like what he had to say.
Eovaldi was making a dazzling return to the big leagues in his first start since August 2016 after recovering from his second Tommy John surgery and more.
He had already worked a sharp six innings, showcasing his upper-90s fastball and a fiendish splitter. He'd settled down after a somewhat shaky first and thrown only 70 pitches to get there. Most notably, he had not allowed the A's a single hit.
And Cash was telling him he was coming out of the game.
"He just kind of stared at me," Cash said. "He wouldn't shake my hand."
"I just tried to stay in there," Eovaldi said. "I didn't want to shake his hand. He said "Come on, you've got to shake my hand." I'm like, "All right … "
"(Pitching coach Kyle) Snyder talked to me afterward. I haven't gone seven innings in a really long time. And there was no way he said I was going to be able to go nine today, so why take the chance on anything? So we played it safe. It was good."
Oh, it was good, all right.
"That was incredible," catcher Jesus Sucre said. "The splitter was amazing. The cutter. … That was amazing. I feel bad because he had a pitch count. If he didn't have the pitch count I have that feeling for sure he was going to throw at least a no-hitter. At least. … Their lineup, they didn't have a chance against him today."
Eovaldi really could not have done better, bemoaning a four-pitch walk to the second hitter he faced prior to retiring 17 straight before making the forced departure he knew was for his own good.
"I would've liked to have stayed out there until I gave up a hit," Eovaldi said, "but I understand the situation as well."
As improbable as it was for Eovaldi to have a no-hitter for six innings, you could almost predict the Rays were going to lose it as soon as he left.
Sure enough, Wilmer Font, the former A in his Rays debut, allowed a single to Jed Lowrie one out into the seventh. Font didn't allow anything else, Vidal Nuno worked the ninth and the Rays ended up with a combined one-hitter, the 16th in franchise history, rather than the second no-no.
Also, they won the game.
The 6-0 victory extended their latest winning streak to five as they improved to 28-26, the first time they've been two games over .500 since Aug. 10, 2017.
Cash talked before the game about how the priority was keeping Eovaldi healthy after he spent all of 2017 with the Rays rehabbing from his second Tommy John. Then, after an impressive showing this spring, how he needed arthroscopic surgery to remove cartilage chips from the same elbow and was set back another two months.
Cash admitted after the game they had decided on an 80-85 pitch limit, but also to limit him to six innings, equally concerned at the number of "up-downs," the term for a pitcher getting heated up to throw again after sitting while his team is batting.
Eovaldi, 28, was a good but not great starter for the Dodgers, Marlins and Yankees, compiling a 38-46, 4.21 record over parts of six seasons before the August 2016 elbow injury that led to the surgery. He had the first Tommy John when in high school.
In making it back, Eovaldi made history, just the 35th to pitch in the majors after two TJs, and only the 12th to start. And he can make more going forward, as only six of those started more than four games.
Though Eovaldi claimed Tuesday he was going to treat this start, his first since Aug. 10, 2016, for the Yankees, like any other. By Wednesday afternoon, he couldn't even convince himself.
Eovaldi and his wife, Rebekah, had a late breakfast and walked around San Francisco mostly window shopping, with a belt he picked out their biggest purchase. They strolled back to the team hotel in Union Square and Eovaldi got ready to head over to Oakland at 3:30. It wasn't like any other game.
"When i got on the bus I got a little nervous," Eovaldi said. "Once I got to the clubhouse I kind of interacted with the guys a little bit and got ready. I got out on the field a little early just to, you know, to take it all in. It was hard to pace myself put there. Warming up in the bullpen I was really real quick. So I was trying to slow down."
Eovaldi was not exactly sharp from the start, throwing a 98 mph fastball on his first pitch and retiring ex-Ray Matt Joyce on a liner to right but then battling himself a bit, walking No. 2 hitter Matt Chapman on four pitches and then getting the next two out.
"It felt great being out there," Eovaldi said. "I was so focused on getting that first out I think after I got it after emotions kind of got to me I was a little nervous out there I walked him on four straight and then I was able to regroup and settle back down."
But he got better as he went and ended up retiring 17 in a row, looking comfortable and confident on the mound, mixing his pitches in working effectively and efficiently.
"It was pretty fun to watch him pitch for six innings," Cash said,noting the "sharpness" of Eovaldi's pitches. "The velocity has been there. Every time he gets on the mound the velocity is there. It's kind of "wow factor" velocity, but you learn that's him.
"What impressed me most was the first inning transition to the second. He did not look really crisp with the pitches and the command and he did a nice job of taking a deep breath and getting back in the zone. And then he just went on cruise control after that."
His teammates did their part to help, taking early control of the game, played before a gathering of 6,705, smallest at the Oakland Coliseum since 2003.
Carlos Gomez, who would leave later with lower half tightness, and Johnny Field doubled for a run in the second. Rob Refsnyder, hitting fifth against A's lefty Sean Manaea, who looked nothing like the guy who no-hit the Red Sox last month, hit a three-run homer in the third.
Field, making us for his Vegas Knights losing in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final, homered in the eighth and C.J. Cron doubled in Daniel Robertson.
"It was a really fun game," Cash said, "until he had to come out."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays