New guys Esteury Ruiz, Kyle Muller, Aledmys Díaz power A’s in opening night win

OAKLAND — I felt lucky to go to opening night with my dad on Thursday. The vibes were electric all night at the creaky Coliseum, despite the low expectations this season and all the unknown names. At one point, maybe during the fourth inning, my dad asked me who was playing third base. 

“Oh that’s Jace Peterson, he’s a new guy,” I told him, before pointing to Aledmys Díaz at shortstop. “He’s new too.”

Then my finger floated over to Jesús Aguilar at first base. Then Kyle Muller on the mound. And Esteury Ruiz in center field.

“He’s new. He’s new. He’s new. Actually, all those guys are new.”

Time moves fast in Oakland. Roster churn is just part of the deal. Every spring, it seems, A’s fans gotta educate themselves about a fresh crop of guys wearing the green and gold.

A year ago, Muller was getting ready for the Triple-A Gwinnett Stripers of the Atlanta Braves organization, Ruiz was about to start with the Double-A San Antonio Missions of the San Diego Padres organization and Díaz was with the Houston Astros. Muller and Ruiz were acquired in the three-team Sean Murphy trade while Díaz was signed to the richest contract for any A’s free agent this winter, for two years and $14.5 million.

The new guys showed up big time in the late comeback against the Los Angeles Angels, as Muller held his own against Shohei Ohtani, while Ruiz and Díaz played starring roles in the eighth-inning rally that led to a 2-1 win.

It marked just the 12th big league start of Muller’s career, and he entered the game with a 5.14 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 28 career walks and 49 strikeouts in 49 MLB innings. His assignment for the first inning couldn’t get much tougher, as he faced Taylor Ward, Mike Trout and Ohtani to lead things off. Muller struck out Ward before Ruiz made an amazing diving grab in center field to retire Trout, perhaps easing the pain for anyone who’s missing Cristian Pache’s defense out there.

“I think he’s one of the most electric rookies that we have,” A’s second baseman Tony Kemp said after the game, via A’s media relations. “He has the ability to change the game at any point. Obviously, that dive against Trout right there, that’s an elite level play. He’s got a lot to bring. We definitely got a high energy guy. I’m excited to see what he can do all season.” 

Muller followed that up by striking out Ohtani with a slider, as he fist-pumped his way off the mound. 

“I have never yelled after the first inning before in baseball,” Muller said after the game, via A’s media relations. “But I was hyped. I was really excited. … That’s what you dream about. You get to face the No. 1, No. 2 players in the world back-to-back in the first inning – you can’t write it up any better than that.” 

Muller looked like he could be wading into dangerous waters in the fourth when he issued a leadoff walk to Trout and a single to Ohtani but he retired the next three batters to get out of the jam. Muller finished five innings, getting pulled after just 72 pitches, giving up an earned run on four hits with a walk and three strikeouts.

“It was great, but I’m happy to have it done,” Muller said. “I’m gonna go home and relax and not think about baseball for the rest of the night.

Zach Jackson, Domingo Acevedo and Trevor May each tossed scoreless innings before the drama went down in the eighth inning.

After the A’s struck out 10 times to Ohtani and were held to two hits through seven innings, Ruiz worked out of an 0-2 hole to stroke a single to right field. Then he showed off his wheels by scoring all the way from first on a booming double by Kemp to center field, shouting in his dirt-stained jersey after scoring the A’s first run of the year.

Díaz followed that up with the game-winning RBI on a sinking line drive to left field, as Kemp gave Oakland the late lead. So long as he’s healthy, Díaz has been a productive hitter, as he owns a career 105 wRC+ and OPS+.

“I was lucky enough to put a barrel on the ball and got a hit,” Díaz told Vince Cotroneo on A’s Cast. “In that situation, I just try to not think too much, not trying to be the hero. I put a good swing on the ball and I was able to get the hit.”

Dany Jiménez closed the game to get the first save of the year.

It’s only Game 1. We’re not even in April yet. But A’s general manager David Forst was probably fist pumping in his suite on Tuesday night after seeing the new-look roster win a close game against Ohtani, Trout and Co.

There is one thing Díaz can improve upon though. It sounds like his postgame hero shot on the clubhouse basketball hoop didn’t go too well.

“Hopefully I do better next time,” Díaz said. “That was a very bad throw. You have to enjoy. You have good days and bad days, but the good ones you have to enjoy.”