The Oakland Athletics set a franchise record for trips to the disabled list in 2016 with 27. Thus far in 2017, they have used the DL eight times, setting pace for a record-crushing 64.
That pace is certain to slow at some point, but the A’s (5-8) will almost definitely challenge, if not surpass, the 27 of a year ago.
Perhaps the most encouraging news for the club and its manager is that involving All-Star starter Gray. The beleaguered former ace, who Monday threw three innings in an extended Spring Training start, will toss four to five innings — “45 pitches or so” — for the Oakland Class-A affiliate Stockton Ports Saturday, according to Bob Melvin:
“This will be a big outing for him — puts him on his way, real game-type situation. Once you get up to that 60-65 pitch mark it means you’re fairly close to hopefully getting back here.”
Gray, who stumbled through 2016 battling both injury (two separate stints on the DL) and ineffectiveness — posting career worsts in losses (11), ERA (5.69) and home runs allowed (18).
At his best, though, Gray is one of the best. En route to a third-place finish in the 2015 American League Cy Young race, the 27-year-old finished third in the league with a 2.73 ERA, sixth in WHIP (1.08) and third in WAR (5.8). That is the hurler Oakland and Melvin are hoping returns to the Coliseum by the end of April.
Melvin was hesitant to commit to a timeline, however:
“You hate to get ahead of yourself, because something could transpire in the mean time that isn’t necessarily a setback, you might just think maybe you need one more time out.”
One could certainly understand the skipper’s reluctance, he has seen 35 of his players go down for extended periods of time over the past 12-plus months.
Among those 35 men, Bassitt was one month into a solid season, despite not getting into the win column, when elbow problems stunted back-to-back starts to end his 2016. In two terrible outings, the 28-year-old saw his ERA rise from 2.79 to 6.11. After succumbing to a 10-hit seven-runs barrage in just 3-2/3 innings against the Detroit Tigers, Bassitt’s year came to an end when his elbow pain was diagnosed as a ulnar collateral ligament tear.
After having Tommy John Surgery last May, the towering right-hander has begun to take serious strides in his own return. He will throw two simulated innings, Melvin said, 15 pitches apiece.
Wendle, like Gray, is closer to a return. Coming off a shoulder injury he suffered this spring.
“He’s going to fly to Nashville tomorrow, and will be DH’ing tomorrow in a game with Nashville. So he’s finally going get out of here too, and start playing some games.”
The second baseman showed flashes of super-stardom after being called up last August. Through his first 16 games as a big leaguer, the left-handed swinger was slashing a healthy .321/.333/.375 with a home run and nine RBIs.
He slowed a bit from there, finishing his first month-long stint in the majors with a .260/.298/.302 slash. But he was a guy the team had big(-league) plans for entering this spring.
For now, the club is content to deal with patchwork problem solving, slotting super utility man Adam Rosales (.227/.298/.366 career slash) in at shortstop in each of the past three games — since Semein was sat, instead of handing the spot to top prospect Franklin Barreto (.294/.350/.467 slash in five minor league seasons).
The team has also tabbed 32-year-old journeyman Cesar Valdez (1-0, 2.70 ERA in two starts with Triple-A Nashville this season) into Graveman’s spot. He will make his A’s debut on Thursday against the Seattle Mariners (6-8). It will not be his major league debut, however. That came back in 2010, when he went 1-2 with a 7.65 ERA in nine games (two starts) as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks.