Chris Bassitt is fired up to face the Astros at the Coliseum on opening night

Chris Bassitt used to have doubts about his status as a big leaguer. Now he’ll be the Oakland A’s starter on opening night next Thursday against the Astros.

It should be a raucous affair as fans get back into the Coliseum for the first time since Oct. 2, 2019, when the A’s lost 5-1 to the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Wild Card game. Oh, and it will be the first time the Astros have played in front of fans since their cheating scandal was made public following the 2019 season. 

“I think every single person has been missing fans,” Bassitt said. “We play in some big ballparks, we’re blessed to do that. But I think we quickly realized last year that those ballparks are pretty dang boring if you play with no fans. …

“Knowing the right-field crazy people are going to be out there with their signs and their horns and stuff like that, I mean, I think we’re all definitely looking forward to the hecticness of the Coliseum.”

A’s manager Bob Melvin named Bassitt the opening day starter on Thursday, citing the right-hander’s strong 2020 campaign. In 11 starts, Bassitt posted a 2.29 ERA, which ranked third in the AL, and his 2.0 WAR was seventh-best among AL pitchers. He struck out 55 and walked 17 in 63 innings while posting a 3.59 FIP and 1.16 WHIP.

“This is probably the first year he hasn’t really had to dig for a starting job,” Melvin said. “It’s really not so much about spring training performance as it is what he accomplished last year. I think everybody would probably agree that he’s probably the man for the job.”

For what it’s worth, Bassitt is faring well in the Cactus League while introducing a Sergio Romo-inspired slider to compliment his curveball with a goofy-ass nickname. The 32-year-old has thrown 10.1 innings in three starts, allowing two earned runs on seven hits and two walks while striking out 12.

Still, those memories of his struggles earlier in his career weigh in his mind. After undergoing Tommy John surgery in May 2016, Bassitt missed the entire 2017 season while dealing with elbow soreness.

“I am beyond grateful just being on this team,” Bassitt said. “I’m not just saying that. I look back two or three years ago after TJ and I questioned if I ever was going to make it back, period. I thought the end of my career was a lot closer than I thought.”

When he came back, the A’s used him as a starter and a reliever. Bassitt intimated that he didn’t used to take the news of his changing role well, but Melvin and A’s pitching coach Scott Emerson kept his head in the game.

“It wasn’t one moment,” Bassitt said. “It was multiple meetings with BoMel, multiple meetings with Emo and just them just guiding me. I think it wasn’t so much them telling me the right things about baseball, it was more the right things about being a human kind of thing. Kind of accepting I can control what I can control and try to be the best baseball player I can be that day.

“It took me a long time and a lot of butt-chewing to get through my head to truly accept that. I’m beyond grateful that I’m probably playing for one of the best managers in baseball.”

Bassitt is one of three starters who looks locked into the A’s rotation to start the year, along with Jesus Luzardo and Sean Manaea.

The team will have to see how Frankie Montas responds from a fingernail injury that has bugged him this spring and cut short his outing on Thursday. Mike Fiers was scheduled to throw a bullpen on Thursday and is making progress but likely still weeks away from rejoining Oakland.