Brett Anderson didn’t look like a pitcher who hadn’t seen a major league mound in over a year.
The Oakland Athletics left-hander stymied the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday in his first start of the 2012 season and his first major league start since June 5, 2011 — a span of 444 days. Anderson missed most of last year and the majority of this season after having Tommy John surgery on his left elbow.
Tuesday marked Anderson’s first start with Oakland after his surgery, and he dazzled. He allowed just one run on four hits through seven innings as he helped the A’s top the Twins 4-1. Anderson also struck out six Minnesota batters and did not issue a walk.
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“Anderson was pretty good. That was one of the better performances we’ve seen in a while,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. “He had a really sharp breaking ball. He had a great little changeup. … He kept us off balance pretty much the whole night and made it really tough on us.”
Prior to Tuesday, Anderson had made six rehab starts with two of Oakland’s minor league affiliates, High-A Stockton and Triple-A Sacramento. He was 1-1 with a 4.62 ERA in 25 1/3 combined innings, including 18 strikeouts and five walks.
“I was actually down with him in Sacramento when he was making his rehab. He was progressing every time out,” said Oakland third baseman Josh Donaldson. “He was looking sharper and sharper. And tonight, wow. Just tip your cap to that guy. He was working the strike zone a lot and getting some soft contact. That’s what we look for.”
Anderson was also helped out by a triple play in the fifth inning. Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe hit a tapper to third, where Donaldson grabbed the ball and stepped on the third base bag. He then fired to second baseman Adam Rosales for out No. 2 and Rosales’ throw to first base beat Plouffe for the third out.
“That’s the breaks,” Gardenhire said. “It goes that way.”
The triple play helped Anderson escape a two-on, no out jam in the fifth. Including the triple play, Anderson retired the last seven batters he faced. He struck out two in the sixth before an inning-ending double play, and again retired the side in the seventh — his final inning of the night. Anderson also retired 10 Twins in a row from the end of the first to the end of the fourth innings.
The lone run the Twins managed against Anderson on Tuesday came in the first inning. Ben Revere led off the game with a single and later stole second base. He eventually came around to score on a wild pitch by Anderson. From there, though, Minnesota couldn’t manage anything offensively against Oakland’s starter.
For Anderson, Tuesday’s victory was his first since May 26 of last year when he beat the Angels. Like it is with any player who undergoes Tommy John surgery, the road back was a long one. But Tuesday’s game was an example that pitchers can bounce back from the major surgery.
Minnesota has had several pitchers in recent memory undergo Tommy John surgery, including right-hander Scott Baker and 2009 first-round pick Kyle Gibson. Unfortunately for the Twins, they were on the wrong side of another pitcher who has come all the way back from it.
“I think before he hurt himself, he was pretty effective too. He was a really, really good pitcher, one of the better ones they had on their team,” Gardenhire said of Anderson. “To see all the work you have to put in to go through something like that … and all the effort that you have to put in and the courage — because it’s not easy. He’s done all the work.”