Athletics

Second half for A's: Out with the old, in with the new

Second half for A's: Out with the old, in with the new

SEATTLE — When the A’s return from the four-day All-Star break, it’s anyone’s guess as to how long their roster will remain intact.

The July 31 trade deadline is just over three weeks away, and it’s a given that some veterans will be exiting Oakland. But the second-half storyline will revolve around the development of the many young players that will continue to command playing time.

“I like where we’re trending,” manager Bob Melvin said before a 4-0 loss to the Mariners closed out the first half. “I like the fact that a lot of the guys that we’ve been looking forward to getting at some point are here now, and are performing well. … I think there’s a certain energy to having these guys here.”

A couple of those young players factored into the storyline Sunday, as the A’s settled for a four-game split with Seattle. Right-hander Daniel Gossett was steamed at himself for lasting just 4 1/3 innings and leaving so much work for his bullpen. His challenge is keeping the ball in the ballpark, having given up eight homers over his first six starts. Nelson Cruz got to him for a two-run shot in the fourth.

“Just overall frustrating,” said Gossett, 24. “It’s the same thing — giving up the homer and throwing the pitch I can’t throw. I had one job with the curve ball, and it was not leaving it up.”

Fellow rookie Matt Chapman is having big-time difficulties at the plate, off to a 5-for-38 start (.132) with 20 strikeouts in 11 games. But the third baseman made one of the best plays by an A’s infielder this season, going into foul territory to backhand Cruz’s grounder and making a terrific off-balance throw across the diamond to easily retire him.

“It’s fun to watch, I’ll tell you that much,” second baseman Jed Lowrie said. “To make a throw like that, as strong as he made it running away from the base and putting it right on the money, it’s pretty impressive.”

Lowrie is one of those veterans who isn’t likely to wear green and gold much longer. He’d have value for a contending team as a switch hitter with defensive versatility, and the A’s need to open up second base for top prospect Franklin Barreto.

“It’s a part of the game,” Lowrie said. “I’m certainly aware of what’s being said. I just try to take advantage of the opportunity that I’m given here and see where that takes me.”

Four young players — none of them with more than a year-and-a-half of big league experience — are playing regularly for Oakland right now: Chapman, catcher Bruce Maxwell, designated hitter Ryon Healy and center fielder Jaycob Brugman. Barreto will join them soon, and utility man Chad Pinder is expected back from a hamstring injury in the next few weeks. Matt Olson, a first baseman/outfield at Triple-A, also factors into the mix.

It was interesting to hear Melvin say Pinder might be a consideration for center field duty in the second half. That suggests that perhaps Rajai Davis might not be long for the A’s either.

Veteran reliever Sean Doolittle, a potential trade chip as well, knows it’s the reality when a team is stuck in last place and has a history of being a seller.

“It’d be naive to say it’s not something guys are aware of, but you try not to think about it,” Doolittle said. “There’s a good group in here, man, and you try to enjoy coming to the field every day. Everybody that puts this uniform on knows what could potentially happen.”

 

Adding insult to injury: A's must regroup after rough start to season

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Adding insult to injury: A's must regroup after rough start to season

It's hard to imagine a worse start to the season for the Oakland A's.

Sure it's only two games, but the A's return home from Japan with a pair of losses on the field and two more off of it.

On Wednesday we learned that talented left-hander Jesús Luzardo will be shut down for four to six weeks with a strained rotator cuff. That's a significant blow to an already thin starting rotation.

Then in Thursday's game, first baseman Matt Olson left with right-hand discomfort after fouling off a pitch in the fifth inning. According to the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser, Olson had trouble gripping a bat after the foul ball.

Of course, it's much too early to panic. Even if Olson has to miss some time, the A's have the infield depth to get by without him. Mark Canha, Chad Pinder, and Jurickson Profar can all play first base and Franklin Barreto can play second.

The real concern lies in the starting pitching. Luzardo wasn't a sure thing to make the rotation out of spring camp, but he certainly figured to be a factor at some point in the near future. Without him, the A's might need help.

Mike Fiers and Marco Estrada, the team's top two starters, both struggled in their season debuts. Fiers only lasted three innings, allowing five earned runs. Estrada got through five innings, giving up three earned runs and two home runs.

The A's are counting on Fiers and Estrada to pitch much better than they did in Japan. Whether they can anchor the rotation throughout the season remains to be seen.

Veteran left-hander Brett Anderson is penciled in as the number three starter, though he struggled much of last year, both with performance and injuries. Frankie Montas will start the year as the number four starter, with Aaron Brooks and Chris Bassitt battling for the number five job.

Starting pitching is clearly the weak point of an otherwise excellent roster. Oakland's hitting, defense, and bullpen are all good enough to reach the postseason and perhaps even the World Series.

[RELATED: A's running out of options following Luzardo injury]

The big question will be whether the A's starters can deliver five solid innings to give the offense and bullpen a chance. Fiers couldn't in his debut. Estrada did a bit better, but it still wasn't enough.

The A's now have a chance to regroup and reset before their home opener March 28 against the Angels. From there, they'll have 160 games to try to repeat last year's magic.
 

Jesús Luzardo's injury a major blow for A's, as team scrambles for options

Jesús Luzardo's injury a major blow for A's, as team scrambles for options

Oakland's already shaky starting rotation took a major blow Wednesday night when it was revealed that 21-year-old left-hander Jesús Luzardo would be shut down for four to six weeks with a rotator cuff strain.

While Luzardo has not yet thrown a major league pitch, the A's top prospect appeared poised to make the starting rotation following a phenomenal spring training. His big league debut will now have to wait and Oakland will have to scramble to shore up its rotation.

In the short term, the competition for the A's number five starter job is likely down to right-handers Chris Bassitt and Aaron Brooks. Bassitt still has a minor league option remaining while Brooks does not, giving the latter a slight edge.

In the bigger picture, the A's will likely have to add another starting pitcher to the mix. Veteran right-hander Edwin Jackson remains available on the free agent market and the team has been in contact with him throughout the offseason. The 35-year-old put together a strong 2018 season in Oakland and was a critical presence in the clubhouse.

As it currently stands, the A's starting rotation features Mike Fiers, Marco Estrada, Brett Anderson, Frankie Montas, and either Brooks or Bassitt. Right-hander Jharel Cotton and southpaws Sean Manaea and A.J. Puk are still recovering from injuries but should be back in the mix sometime this season.

[RELATED: Matt Olson exits game with hand discomfort]

Unfortunately, the A's can't afford to sit around and wait for their potential returns. Signing Jackson has gone from a luxury to a necessity. His return would at least give Oakland four veteran starters to hold down the fort until reinforcements arrive. 

Oakland still features one of the best bullpens in all of baseball, which means they don't need their starters to go more than five innings. They just need pitchers who can keep them in the game early on. Jackson has certainly proven more than capable of that.