Possible options for A's to replace suspended starter Frankie Montas

Possible options for A's to replace suspended starter Frankie Montas

OAKLAND -- Frankie Montas was in the midst of a breakout season. At 9-2, with a 2.70 ERA and 1.12 WHIP, the A's right-hander even appeared destined to pitch in next month's All-Star Game.

Now, he won't pitch again until late September.

Montas was suspended for 80 games after testing positive for Ostarine, a banned performance-enhancing substance under Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Agreement. It's a devastating blow to the A's, who have struggled to piece together a starting rotation the last two seasons.

Oakland will now have to find a way to replace its best starting pitcher.

"We'll figure it out over the next few days," said A's general manager David Forst. "But I think if there's something this group has shown over the last year and a half, it's that 'next man up' is their motto. ... Every guy in the organization has shown the ability to step up and it led to a lot of great things last year and I think they're going to feel that same responsibility this time around."

If there's a silver lining for the A's, it's that talented left-handers Jesús Luzardo and Sean Manaea are both getting close to returning from injuries. Luzardo, the team's top prospect, will make a rehab start for Triple-A Las Vegas on Saturday as he continues to recover from a shoulder strain. Manaea, who was last year's ace, will likely head out on a rehab assignment next week as he works his way back from shoulder surgery.

Luzardo, 21, looked sharp in a pair of rehab appearances for High-A Stockton. In seven innings, he allowed just one run on six hits with 11 strikeouts and no walks. Luzardo still needs to be stretched out to at least 90 pitches, but he seems likely to join the A's sometime in July.

Manaea, 27, has thrown two simulated games in Arizona and has felt great after both. If he avoids any setbacks, he could also rejoin Oakland sometime next month.

A's number two prospect A.J. Puk is also nearing a return, but the left-hander is expected to pitch in a bullpen role. The 24-year-old will be on an innings limit following Tommy John surgery.

"We're going to have some guys coming back, and some high-profile guys coming back," said A's manager Bob Melvin. "As a team, we went through some adversity last year. This is a little bit different as far as that goes, but I don't think it takes away from the fact that we still expect to go out there and win. Somebody else will get an opportunity."

In the meantime, Oakland's starting rotation will consist of Mike Fiers, Brett Anderson, Chris Bassitt, and Tanner Anderson. The A's have an off-day Monday, meaning they could conceivably get by with four starters for the next week.

Whenever the A's do need a fifth starter, they will likely turn to either Daniel Mengden or Paul Blackburn, both currently in Triple-A. Right-hander Aaron Brooks could also serve as a number five starter. He made six starts for Oakland earlier this season before moving to a long relief role.

As Forst and Melvin mentioned, this A's squad has already shown it can overcome adversity. Last season, Oakland had to persevere through an endless barrage of injuries to starting pitchers, yet still found a way to win 97 games and reach the postseason.

[RELATED: GM David Forst disappointed by suspension]

"(It's) adversity, but what do you do?" shrugged A's shortstop Marcus Semien. "You keep playing. Hopefully, we can find somebody to step in every fifth day and do well. We're going to play hard behind whoever that is and move on."

"Unfortunately, it was a guy who everybody is pretty close to here and a guy who's performed really well," Melvin added. "It's just something we're going to have to deal with."

Three A's prospects make MLB Pipeline's latest top 100 for 2020 season

Three A's prospects make MLB Pipeline's latest top 100 for 2020 season

The A's impressive trio of talented prospects continued to be recognized on Saturday. Pitchers Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk, as well as catcher Sean Murphy, were listed on MLB Pipeline's new list of their top 100 prospects for the 2020 season. 

Luzardo leads the way at No. 12 with Murphy ranked 33 and Puk at No. 60. This is much different than how Baseball America ranked the three

Luzardo, 22, is ranked three spots lower by MLB Pipeline than Baseball America, which placed the left-handed pitcher as the ninth-best prospect in baseball. Murphy and Puk are seen much differently by the two outlets as well. 

Baseball America has Puk as high as No. 21, coming in as Oakland's second-best prospect. His injury history as someone who underwent Tommy John surgery could be a reason MLB Pipeline ranks him lower. 

Murphy, on the other hand, is ranked eight spots higher on MLB Pipeline's top 100 than he is on Baseball America's. He's considered the best defensive prospect at catcher and could be a Gold Glove candidate as soon as this upcoming season. 

[RELATED: A's fans confident in team, Fiers heading into 2020 season]

All three prospects played a part in the A's reaching the AL Wild-Card Game last season. In 2020, however, they'll look to push Oakland to an AL West title and more. 

The future is here for the A's, and it starts with Luzardo, Murphy and Puk.

A's fans confident in team, Mike Fiers heading into 2020 MLB season

A's fans confident in team, Mike Fiers heading into 2020 MLB season

OAKLAND -- It didn’t take long for the Q&A sessions at the A’s annual Fan Fest on Saturday to be swarmed with questions about “cheating” and “the Astros situation.” 

Yet a sense of excitement was in the air among the 32,000 green and gold faithful at Jack London Square. Typically, I would say “hope,” but A’s manager Bob Melvin said it was a season he looks forward to and there isn’t much of a message he wanted to send to his team.

They're ready.

And so are the fans. 

A young fan clutched her A’s teddy bear tightly to herself after A’s shortstop Marcus Semien took a sharpie to it. It was officially a collector’s item. 

She immediately gleamed with pride and appeared to barely catch her breath.

The long line was worth the wait.

When the topic of Mike Fiers came up, fans expressed support for the veteran pitcher, who was the main source in MLB's investigation into the Astros.

"We're behind Mike 150 percent," Fleetwood, long-time A's fan, told NBC Sports California. "We told him that, as they were marching in, 'We're behind you.'" 

"Mike is the hero, we love him for it," he added.

The combination of a strong roster on paper and support for Fiers was the theme of the day. 

"We just want to see good baseball, we want to see a competitive team -- want to see players signed, we want to be spoiled with these players just as the other teams are," Fleetwood said.

And Fleetwood's future outlook for the team? It was a deadpan look into the camera during an additional interview saying that the A's would indeed be the World Series champions next season.

Fans are looking forward to the young pitching arms and there is always a mention of “that Matt Chapman guy.” 

Watching fans list the strong things the team possesses heading into the season left them in better spirits than previous seasons. 

"The over is 89 and a half," Michael Gilson of Lafayette, Calif. said. "I would bet the over -- there's no reason for them to be less than where they were last year."

[RELATED: Sportsbook predicts 89.5 wins for A's in 2020]

Time and time again, Las Vegas has come up short in what this team can do.

"I think they've got the luxury of plenty this year," Gilson said.

Looking around, it appeared a weight had been lifted off the shoulders of Oakland fans. They have confidence in the team that looks strong on paper. The confidence that you'll be able to hear in drum and cheer form.