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Inside Pitch: Pitching tops A’s needs with looming deadline

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Houston Astros vs Oakland Athletics
Houston Astros pitcher Mike Fiers (54) pitches in the second inning of the game against the Oakland Athletics at O.co Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on September 7, 2015.

With less than 20 hours left before the trade deadline and fresh off a three-game sweeping in Colorado, the Athletics have just enough time and motivation to make a deadline move and bolster their playoff hopes.

For a team vastly overachieving, though, there is a line to toe between improving the roster and disturbing success. Oakland has gotten contributions from up and down the 40-man roster, putting a team many expected to be at or below the .500 mark come season’s end, but soft spots, though few and far between, are present.

The A’s shored up one of those soft spots less than two weeks ago, adding All-Star reliever Jeurys Familia. Manager Bob Melvin called Familia, who has won twice while allowing two hits and one unearned run in five innings with the A’s, a big addition he is very happy with. And while the skipper said he would happily chase a Wild Card spot and possibly an AL West crown with the players currently in the clubhouse, he would support any move made by the front office before Tuesday’s 1 p.m. (Pacific Time) deadline:

“I try not to look too much into it, I don’t want to be disappointed. I like the roster that we have, if we don’t do anything else I’m happy with it. If we do then it will be a nice surprise.”

Oakland’s interest in making another addition was likely given a shot of adrenaline Monday when the Mariners, the nearest prey to the A’s predatorial pursuit of playoff positioning, added a pair of relievers, Zach Duke (3-4, 3.62 ERA, 1.58 WHIP) and Adam Warren (0-1, 2.70 ERA, 1.27 WHIP).

The A’s retain a lead in the AL’s Western Wild Card arms race, even after the moves, but Seattle separates itself from Oakland with James Paxton and Marco Gonzales.

In 20 starts this season, Paxton (8-4, 3.70 ERA, 1.09 WHIP) has lasted at least six innings in all but seven, including his most recent outing when he was pulled with a back injury. Gonzales (12-5, 3.37 ERA, 1.16 WHIP) has recorded 18 or more outs in 15 of his last 17 starts.

Conversely, the A’s have just two hurlers who have made more than 11 starts. And only Sean Manaea has made more than 16. Seattle has a pair of horses they can ride to the finish line, and while Manaea appears destined for that role it doesn’t appear to be something that will be expected from him this year.

Oakland could use an ace-type starter for the stretch run.

Tampa Bay’s Chris Archer (3-5, 4.31 ERA, 1.39 WHIP) is the most coveted target in the starter market. He is under contract through the 2019 season, with team options for 2020 and 2021, and, at 29, boasts a career 3.69 ERA and 1.230 WHIP while averaging just about six innings per start over his seven-year career.

The A’s have also shown interest in a pair of Detroit starters, Michael Fulmer (3-9, 4.50 ERA, 1.32 WHIP) and Mike Fiers (7-6, 3.54 ERA, 1.24). Though, with Fulmer currently on the disabled list (Grade 1 oblique strain), Fiers (just under six innings per outing this season) is the more likely candidate.

Melvin, though, isn’t concerned about the lack of innings-eating coming from his rotation this season. And with the league’s seventh-best bullpen ERA (3.42) and eighth-best WHIP (1.24), he can’t be blamed:

“At this point, with the bullpen the way it is right now, we’re not expecting the innings. … There’s different ways to win … we lean on or relievers a little bit more, that’s just the way that our roster sets up.”

For that reason, it could be more likely that the A’s add yet another reliever. Someone like Texas’ Keone Kela (3-3, 3.44 ERA, 1.15 WHIP) or San DIego’s Kirby Yates (3-0, 1.60 ERA, 0.89 WHIP). Another lefty, like San Francisco’s Tony Watson (3-4, 2.12 ERA, 1.01 WHIP) could also be a smart addition, taking some of the workload from Ryan Buchter in late left-on-left matchups.

While pitching, and starting pitching in particular, is the clear need for the A’s, bringing in another outfielder is a not-too-far second.

Rookie Nick Martini has been rock-solid in July, slashing .385/.515/.615 with five RBIs and six runs scored in 13 games. Because of his success, the A’s are no longer dealing with a need for upgrade. Melvin called the 28-year-old the right guy at the right time:

“Very advanced approach. … Can get two-strike hits, has a short stroke and uses the whole field. He impressed us in Spring Training and he’s impressing us again here.”

But Dustin Fowler has struggled since the emergence of Martini and Matt Joyce suffered yet another setback in return from back problems Monday.

But adding an outfielder is something the A’s could wait longer to do. Outfielders, even well-established ones like Andrew McCutchen or Adam Jones could conceivable clear waivers and become available in late August should Oakland’s plan of action involve waiting out Joyce’s back.

Though modest, there was further good news Monday when Chad Pinder was seen taking groundballs at second base.

Pinder was involved in a car accident in Colorado over the weekend, and though he said things could have been much worse the super-utility man did require stitches in his left elbow. Save for Franklin Barreto, who has racked up frequent flyer miles on the Oakland-Nashville express, Pinder is the back-up option at second, third and shortstop. If his injury was such that he could see extended absence the A’s would need to seek out a buffer for Pinder.

As is though, the A’s, who enter the final two months of the regular season in position to make a move not just for the Wild Card but the division, are in a far better position than most outside of the clubhouse figured in March. And while a move or two will certainly bolster their chances, the roster as-is is certainly good enough to close and eventually erase the gap.


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.

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