Struggling Surkamp slips toward uncertain future

As he has done often this season, A’s starter Eric Surkamp manned the front of his locker Tuesday night, scanning his psyche for answers.

Unlike previous postgame interviews, Surkamp had not yet showered. Wearing an A’s hoodie along with workout shorts and green Under Armour socks, he stood with eyes wandering fighting to conjure explanations for his inability to complete three innings.

Surkamp’s gear wasn’t stationed in his normal locker near fellow starter Rich Hill. It was stacked in an auxiliary locker kitty-corner to the locker-room television. It was largely unpacked, rather remaining stored inside a small duffel bag having recently been through Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport judging by the “LAS” luggage tag attached to the handle.

Standing alone, without a teammate to either side, Surkamp was unable to come up with answers to his struggles:

“I just wasn’t good all around — I can’t really put a finger on it… If I knew what (the problem) was, I’d do something to fix it.”

In this his fourth stint with the major-league club, Surkamp’s continued struggles have left the eight-year pro no choice but to be prepared for a minor-league banishing. He has now been unable to survive five full frames in six of his seven starts.

With fewer strikeouts (15) than walks (17), the Cincinnati native has lacked a put-away pitch while also being unable to stay in the strike zone. When he has come in, he has lacked the knack for keeping off the barrel of his opponents, surrendering a .344 batting average against (BAA) with 44 hits in 29 innings. Add five hit batsmen and you get a gaudy 2.10 WHIP.

Asked about Surkamp’s future, A’s manager Bob Melvin was non-committal — at best. His comments could lead one to believe reality has overcome hope:

“We’re limited on starters right now. We’ll take a look and see where we are tomorrow, and come up with a guy for Saturday.”

In an absence of starting pitcher options — only Raul Alcantra (5-4, 4.16 ERA with Double-A Midland) remains on the current 40-man roster — Melvin and the A’s brain trust must find a way to move on from Surkamp.

The 28-year-old lefty is not nearly the entire problem, representing just one of nine pitchers to make a start for the A’s (27-37), and has started just seven of the team’s games in 2016. The shortcomings of the group as a whole have led to the A’s into the cellar of the AL West.

Struggling through injuries as well as overall ineffectiveness, Oakland has been forced to use two more starters than their division leader and Tuesday opponent Texas Rangers (25-40) who have also been forced to shuffle. Compounding matters, three of the starters used have been rookies.

Representing the right-handed half of the A’s catching platoon Josh Phegley said, after Tuesday’s loss, that ever-oscillating rotation has hurt:

“It’s tough to get in a groove that way. We need these guys coming up throwing well for us, but it’s also tough on them — flying back and forth… That’s just a tough schedule but hopefully we can find some consistency some time, and get these guys rolling.”

All told, the small army that has accrued 47 starts for the A’s has combined for a 5.35 ERA, good enough for second worst in the American League. A facet of the game that was a strength for the team a year ago — 3.91 ERA (No. 3 AL) — has become an overbearing weakness.

Even ace Sonny Gray (3-6, 5.34) has battled bouts of inconsistency, and found himself whisked away to the DL.

The constant question marks have manager Bob Melvin rummaging through thought in search of answers:

“It’s challenging. We’ve (gone) through periods where we were OK, and then we’ve gone through other periods where we’ve had to go to the bullpen early in the game. We’ve called some guys up, and you get some guys injured and you only have so many guys.”

Hill (8-3, 2.25 ERA) has been the team’s top performing hurler, pushing toward a first ever All-Star nod. But a groin strain on May 29 landed him on the DL.

Kendall Graveman (2-6, 5.28 ERA) has endured the highest number of starts (12), but has been far from a model of consistency posting just three quality starts.

Rookie, and the franchise’s No. 2 pre-season prospect, Sean Manaea (2-4, 6.02) seemed to to have found his groove lasting six or more innings in five consecutive starts before an injury-induced early departure on Monday lead to his own DL stint.

With the cavalcade of Oakland walking wounded, Surkamp (0-4, 8.07 ERA) has been afforded an unimaginable amount of opportunities, in spite of his complete lack of success. So it is no surprise that he is overcome with irritation:

“For a team this year that so many guys have gotten injured, there’s been plenty of opportunity here for throughout the season and I haven’t done anything with it. It’s super frustrating.”

Given a chance to defend the journeyman pitcher, Melvin said that the toll of constant change is no excuse:

“That’s the way baseball is. You go back and forth until you pitch well enough to stay here. He has pitched well in the minor leagues, he just hasn’t done it here.”


Kalama Hines is SFBay’s Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.