On October 2, 2015, Aaron Brooks limited the Seattle Mariners to two runs in seven innings, leading the A's to a 4-2 win. He wouldn't make another major league start for nearly three and a half years.
That opportunity finally came this week when Brooks took the hill against the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox. The 28-year-old overcame his nerves and tossed six shutout innings, allowing just two hits and a walk, with six strikeouts.
"It was a good one to start on," Brooks told NBC Sports California. "The absence has been hard on me, but it's also been in the back of my mind that I believe I should be here and can be here. ... It feels good to get back and prove to myself that I belong here and I can compete."
Brooks spent the majority of the last three seasons in the minors as he struggled with injuries and poor performance. After stints in the Cubs and Brewers' organizations, he was traded back to the A's last September in exchange for cash considerations.
"I was excited," Brooks said. "I really feel like they appreciate what I can do and the work ethic I have. I think I fit right in here with the loose feel of having fun, but also getting work done. I'm super blessed and grateful that they continue to give me the opportunity."
Added A's manager Bob Melvin: "I have to give David (Forst) and Billy (Beane) credit on that one. We haven't seen him since 2015 and he hasn't started a big league game. So it's not like I was targeting him, but they kept a close on eye on him. I think now you're seeing him mature a little bit and gain some confidence."
Brooks missed most of the 2016 season with a hip contusion and struggled immensely in 2017, finishing with a 6.12 ERA in 26 games at the Triple-A level. He admits it was difficult to stay positive.
"It was, but I'm a huge believer in positive vibes," he said. "Your mind is huge. For me to just go to the field every day, try to get as much work done as I can, stay as positive as I can -- just trying to do that every single day kind of helped me steer away from even trying to think about the negative side of things. I've got a great wife who tries to keep my mind off of it when I'm at home. So it hasn't been as bad as it could be, I would imagine, but I just try to stay positive."
Brooks got back on track in 2018, going 9-4 with a 3.35 ERA in 26 games for Colorado Springs, the Brewers' Triple-A affiliate. He says he didn't really adjust his mechanics but instead credits an improved mindset for the bounce-back season.
"A lot for me has been mental, just having conviction with every pitch and being able to adjust from pitch to pitch," Brooks said. "If you feel something out of whack with a certain pitch, you can flip the switch and not make it the same the next time."
Brooks' resilience and mental toughness impressed the A's. His ability to overcome adversity was a major factor in the team's decision to make him their number five starter.
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"It's a tough deal when someone keeps telling you no, trying to keep your confidence up and strive to get where you want to," Melvin said. "I know he's really embracing this opportunity and taking it pretty seriously. He's really working hard between starts and knows that he has a chance to stick in the rotation at the big league level for the first time in a while."
"Just being able to actually have a spot to call home is huge for confidence and it helps you relax a little bit," Brooks added. "Everyone in this clubhouse wants to have fun, first and foremost. When you're having fun and staying loose, you're able to relax and perform on the field."