The newest A's bullpen member officially joined the team on Tuesday at Progressive Field in Cleveland, through which he used to ride on a bus as a Class A ballplayer.
Manager Bob Melvin wasted little time getting Wagner into a game, sending him out to pitch the eighth inning of a 6-2 loss to the Indians. Wagner struck out Carlos Santana, the first batter he faced, with a 96-mph fastball. After inducing a groundout by Jerad Head, Wagner allowed the first hit of his career, a single by Jack Hannahan. He righted himself, though, and forced Jason Donald to ground out to end the inning.
"It was pretty cool," Wagner said. "Once I settled down and got into the flow of things a little bit, it was all right. I was overthrowing a little bit, with all the emotions, but I settled in and ended up OK. It's almost a relief to have it over with."
Prior to the game, Wagner, 27, said it was fitting that he was called up to face the Indians, who drafted him in the 21st round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft. He was traded to the A's last season for cash considerations.
"This ballpark, it always seemed so close but so far," said Wagner. "It's a little strange to be here, a little surreal. Of all the places, this is kind of a full-circle type of situation."
Wagner took the 40-man roster spot of Bruce Billings, who was outrighted to Triple-A Sacramento. Wagner will be utilized in the middle innings, Melvin said, and provide the club with a right-handed long relief option.
"I know he's got a plus-fastball and touches 100," Melvin said. "He's working on his changeup and breaking ball, but his fastball is his best pitch from what I understand, and they like what they've seen so far down there this year."
"My bread and butter is my fastball," Wagner said. "That's my best attribute, I'd say, and the difference between last year and this year has been being more consistent throwing strikes and getting ahead of hitters, so I don't have to throw it 2-0, because in that count, no matter how hard you throw, sitting on that, they're going to crush it. That's been big for me."
Wagner began the year at Double-A Midland before he was promoted to Sacramento on June 25, combining for a 3.26 ERA and .232 opponents' average with 87 strikeouts in 66 1/3 innings, an average of 11.80 strikeouts per nine innings.
He's not only familiar with recent catcher callup Anthony Recker and bench coach Joel Skinner, who served as his Double-A manager in Akron last year. He also knows Cleveland's Tuesday starter, Jeanmar Gomez, who was his roommate in 2009.
"The familiar faces, the familiar setting, it helps," Wagner said.