OAKLAND — The A’s are less than three weeks removed from playing under the Arizona sun and basking in the optimism that spring training provides.
How things have changed in a short time.
Already their resiliency is being tested by injuries, the most significant being Monday’s news that shortstop Marcus Semien will be lost until well into June, most likely, because of wrist surgery.
The losses on the scoreboard aren’t so damaging right now. A 7-0 defeat to Texas on Monday night leaves the A’s at 5-8, and certainly that’s no reason to panic.
The bigger challenge for the A’s right now, particularly for those veterans who were around for last year’s injury-marred 69-93 season, is not to let a feeling of hopelessness creep in early and affect the team’s collective psyche.
Last year the A’s set an Oakland record with 27 disabled list transactions. They’ve already used the D.L. eight times this year. Semien joined it Sunday and No. 1 starter Kendall Graveman went on the D.L. Monday with a strained shoulder that the A’s hope only sidelines him for one start.
The short-term mission for the A’s over the next couple of weeks: Keep things together, keep the .500 mark in sight and be in position so that the potential return of players like Graveman and fellow starter Sonny Gray can be difference-making additions.
Graveman said he’s not concerned about negative vibes taking hold in the season’s first month.
“It’s tough luck for a lot of guys,” Graveman said. “But hopefully Marcus is going to be OK. Sonny’s trending in the right direction. That’s a positive sign that maybe this year we’ll all be healthy toward the middle and end of the year, instead of everybody going downhill at the end.”
There’s a lot that needs to break right for that to become reality. Most importantly, the starting rotation needs to return to full strength. Gray, on the shelf with a strained lat muscle, threw 2 2/3 innings in an extended spring training game Monday. He gave up a homer to his first batter but was sharper as the outing went along according to manager Bob Melvin, who watched the game on video.
Early May seems possible for Gray’s return. Graveman, who has a mild rotator cuff strain, has played catch in recent days and says he could get on a mound in the next couple of days. He, Melvin and general manager David Forst all expressed hope that Graveman will miss just one start before he’s eligible to come off the 10-day D.L. on April 25.
Graveman’s next turn in the rotation comes Thursday. The A’s have not announced a starter for that day.
The A’s entered this season hoping to turn the page from a health standpoint. Their tough luck early on is making that hard to do, but Melvin wasn’t looking to feel sorry for his team before Monday’s game.
“You look over at the other side who we’re playing,” he said of the Rangers. “(Closer Sam) Dyson just went on the DL, (Adrian) Beltre’s on the DL. So we’re not the only team. … You start out 10 days into the season or whatever with Marcus and Kendall having to go on the DL, that’s not ideal. But that’s where you rely on the depth and hopefully, knock wood, we don’t have anybody else we have to deal with.”
Forst, while acknowledging the injury misfortune, said he still likes the team the A’s can field right now.
“We’ve played well at times,” he said before Monday’s game. “Jharel (Cotton) has had some good starts, Andrew (Triggs) has pitched well. Sean (Manaea) pitched really well for five or so innings the other night. We have some really talented guys here, we can certainly compete in this division. It just takes a little chunk out of your depth every time somebody goes down, and makes it a little harder.”
That’s why the A’s need not look past the short term and just keep treading water for the time being. Eventually their roster could become whole again. And that would make a difference, provided they haven’t dug a hole they can’t climb out of.