Chapman close to return after second cortisone shot

Prior to last week, his third trip to doctors in less than a year, the source of the pain in Matt Chapman‘s right hand could not be determined:

“There was a lot of pain and there was swelling in my hand, so it was hard to pinpoint exactly where it was. Maybe I wasn’t describing it as well as I should have, trying to downplay it.”

Chapman received a cortisone shot in the sesamoid bone — the joint at the base of the finger — in his thumb during Spring Training, but the pain remained. A stubborn 24-year-old (at the time) the Oakland third baseman attempted to play through the pain, like he did at the end of the 2017 season, but the discomfort became too much to bear on June 14.

After he was removed in the seventh inning of that game, a 7-3 loss to the Astros, Chapman landed on the 10-day disabled list.

This time, though, doctors appear to have discovered and combated the pain. His second cortisone shot in just about four months, this time higher in the thumb in the joint near the wrist, has left Chapman pain-free.

His latest progression in testing the hand arrived Sunday, with the second-year slugger taking batting practice on the field. Manager Bob Melvin said he saw all he needed to see during Chapman’s BP:

“He hit a few off the back wall in center field, so that tells me enough.”

After hitting, Chapman said he was excited to be where he is:

“I feel good. I feel strong, feel healthy. Honestly, it’s probably the best that my hand’s felt all year. …When I first came back from that first shot, when I started swinging again it was still hurting and still sore. Today, nothing.”

The next step in his recovery is facing live pitching, which he will do Monday when he gets the start for Advanced-A Stockton. Chapman said he wasn’t sure if he would need more than one minor league start before getting back into the green and gold. But if Melvin gets his way, the young star will be back in time for the Padres series, which starts Tuesday:

“Getting him back in the lineup will be a nice little kick for us.”

Chapman, who is slashing .250/.346/.447 with 10 home runs and 26 RBIs in 69 games this season, has been forced to watch his club run hot. The A’s have won 12 of their last 14 games catapulting them right back into the thick of the playoff race. Eight of those wins came during Oakland’s recent road trip, which relegated the passionate third baseman to watching his team from afar:

“It’s been pretty fun, I was watching them on TV. I was trying to get them to let them come with the team, but obviously I’m not very good at persuading them.”

No persuasion will be needed once Chapman is given a clean bill of health. He has been one of the most productive hitters on the club, and one of the most potent defensive weapons in the game. But while his return will be greeted with open arms, it will mean the departure of one of the 25 guys who have played an important role during that run.

Oakland is currently running with a 13-man rotation, the way it has much of the season, rather than the 12 that most teams go with.

The lack of starter innings explains the need for the extra arm — A’s starters have combined for 458-2/3 innings (just over 5-1/3 per game) — but the starters have been rolling during this successful run.

This makes Josh Lucas, who hasn’t pitched in six days, expendable. Emilio Pagán is Melvin’s go-to long man, so while Lucas has been a solid reliever the opportunities just aren’t there for him right now.

But Melvin and the A’s love to have the extra arm. They also love getting 22-year-old Franklin Barreto getting regular at-bats, which means he is the likely odd man out.

The Oakland skipper brought up Barreto’s name without provocation Sunday while talking about Chapman’s pending return:

“He’s got a few strikeouts but he’s also got a few homers and done some damage. It was nice to be able to get some consistent at-bats. … It’s been a nice opportunity for Frankie.”

Barreto’s season number may not be pretty, he is slashing .216/.245/.451 with 23 strikeouts in 17 games. But when given everyday run, with Chapman on the sidelines, the Venezuelan prospect slashed .244/.261/.511 with three big homers and all 10 of his RBIs this year. The average and on-base percentage may not have been what the A’s would want, but he was a productive bat.

While Barreto opened eyes with his swing though, his departure would mean the return of Chapman, which is just a few short days away.


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