Oakland Athletics starters have allowed 4.3 runs per nine innings pitched. But, for the staff with the American League’s third-highest ERA, the wait for reinforcements is nearing its end.
Lefty Sean Manaea (1-2, 5.18 ERA), who has not pitched since suffering a strained throwing shoulder on April 26, will join Daniel Mengden (right foot) and Chris Bassitt (Tommy John surgery), who have not yet taken the mound this year, on Triple-A rehab stints this week.
Manaea worked around an early disabled list stint in 2016, posting a team-best 3.86 ERA. This time, though, the second-year starter saw a fall-off in pitch quality to accompany the physical discomfort. In lasting just 2 innings against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Manaea saw his velocity dropped below 90 mph — normally hovering around 94.
Manager Bob Melvin said, after a bullpen session Saturday, that troubling sign has been remedied:
“He looked really good. This is the best he’s felt — best action on the baseball. And he came away feeling good.”
While his velocity didn’t rise above 90 mph, the skipper said an lack of game-action adrenaline will normally cause a three-to-four miles per hour drop.
Now, the “Throwin’ Samoan” will graduate from the bullpen mound in Oakland to the main mound in Nashville, where he will get his first — and perhaps only — rehab start for the Sounds Tuesday, throwing 70 pitches.
Melvin said the decision to send the 25-year-old down to Triple-A for a spell is more about rebuilding his endurance and confidence following a two-week hiatus than anything:
“We’re pretty confident (in his health). We just wanted to make sure he pitched in a game. Based on him not feeling great before, we just want to give him completely past it — my guess is, he probably could have pitched here.”
Before Manaea gets on the hill, though, old-fashioned right-hander Mengden will get his first call of the year.
After fracturing his foot while home in Houston prior to Spring Training, Mengden has slowly progressed from his Feb. 8 surgery to his first bullpen session on April 17. Finally, with a Monday starting assignment, the path to return will include a 10-inch high hill, 60 feet-six inches from an actual hitter. The plan is to have the moustached Mengden to throw 60 pitches.
And after Manaea departs Tuesday, Bassitt will be his relief.
The towering right-hander has not been on the rubber in over a year — last pitching April 28, 2016. And his return from surgery has been a journey, more so than Mengden. But the relentless work ethic which has caught the attention of Melvin as well as Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Billy Beane has helped Bassitt return uncommonly quickly from the dreaded TJ.
He first took the bullpen mound on April 10 — less than one year after the surgery.
Bassitt will take over upon Manaea’s ousting Tuesday, and throw 70 pitches of his own.
The healthy return of the pitching trio, of course, will force moves from a pitching staff that is currently running 13-deep. While Bobby Wahl (0-0, 6.75 ERA) and Josh Smith (0-0, 4.50 ERA), both recent call-ups, are clear favorites for the option and flight to Tennessee, opning the last spot will take some finagling.
“It makes for tough decisions, but good ones.”
Good decisions, indeed. Decisions that he has not been used to making.
Having too many arms is a luxury Melvin and the A’s have not been forced to endure in a while, having used the DL 12 times already this season after setting a franchise record with 27 uses a season ago.
The A’s list of walking wounded, though it has been a bit on the robust size in the early goings, has steadily begun to diminish. Second baseman Joey Wendle, who was removed from the list April 19, is currently slashing .250/.250/.442 in 12 games with the Sounds. Pitcher Sonny Gray (0-1, 6.00 ERA) will make his second start of the season for the A’s Sunday. Kendall Graveman (2-2, 3.95 ERA) has been productive in his own two starts since returning from his own stint.
And more are on the way.
Catcher Josh Phegley (concussion) will make three starts in extended spring this week — catching Monday and Wednesday, and serving as the designated hitter Tuesday. He had been slashing .206/.206/.412 with one home run and three RBIs prior to being placed on the seven-day concussion list on May 4.
Reliver John Axford (right shoulder) threw a bullpen Sunday, and both looked and felt good, according to Melvin. He remains on track for a Mid-May season debut.
Finally, while timetables for outfielder Jake Smolinski (shoulder) and reliever Sean Doolittle (left shoulder) remain unclear, shortstop Marcus Semien has begun taking grounders during pre-game infield drills. He has been able only to pick up the ball, not throw it, but having replaced his hard cast with a soft brace things are moving in the right direction.
Melvin, who said his shortstop is progressing quicker than originally expected, added:
“Marcus is still a ways away. We don’t have an idea on Doolittle right now, too. So, there are some key guys that are out, but as I’ve said often, it creates an opportunity for somebody else.”