Athletics

Why A's pitching depth could prove beneficial in 60-game MLB season

Why A's pitching depth could prove beneficial in 60-game MLB season

Baseball’s spring training can be a slog. It’s normally five weeks between when the full squad shows up until the first game, and six weeks from the time pitchers and catchers report.

Position players don’t need such a long lead-in. Pitchers do, especially starters asked to regularly go deep into games. It takes some time, and a lot of rest between outings, to build up that stamina.

That’s something July’s three-week training camp won’t afford. That’s all the time available to get a shortened 60-game season in before the fall gets too close to winter, so starters won’t be ready to go deep early in a campaign impeded by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“We have a six-to-seven-week spring training so we can get our pitchers stretched out,” A’s executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane said on The TK Show with Tim Kawakami. “With the three-week period, you’re just not going to have starters going seven or eight innings. You’re going to have to break games up in terms of three or four innings at a time. It’s going to take a while for these guys to get stretched out. That will be an interesting dynamic that we haven’t had to deal with in a while.”

The A’s are well equipped to handle a less than ideal scenario. They have an excellent five-man rotation with Mike Fiers, Sean Manaea, Frankie Montas, Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk. They also have Chris Bassitt as a more-than-capable starting option or long man out of the bullpen who can pair with a starter only able to go four-ish innings.

Bassitt can be a bridge to the better parts of the A’s bullpen, especially with a lead, once or maybe twice in a rotation cycle depending upon his workload if he stretches out like a starter during this camp.

The A’s also have a former starter and long man Yusmeiro Petit available, someone asked to go two-plus innings eight times in 2019. He went that distance 18 times in 2018, so he’s capable of extending into a third-inning if needed. Lou Trivino went three innings once last year and two-plus four times.

The A’s could also use an extra roster spot -- they have 30 in the early going -- on someone to help that effort.

How long will the starters be hindered? We can look at the 1995 season as an example. Beane brought that year up in his conversation with Kawakami as another unique case with little lead time for starters to stretch out. That season was odd, with replacement players set to start a season with the players union on strike. A deal was struck later in the spring, so teams went back to spring training for a three-week lead-in to the regular season.

The A’s were pretty bad in 1995 and didn’t always have cause for pitchers to go deep in games early on, but they didn’t push a starter into the seventh inning until Todd Stottlemyre did it in the 13th game. The A’s had pitchers go into the sixth inning three times before that, with Dave Stewart doing so twice on solid outings.

[RELATED: Dave Forst details challenges preparing for season in pandemic]

"This will be very similar," Beane said. "We’re going to have starters who throw a max of maybe 4 or 5 innings the first couple of weeks."

We could see that early output from the 2020 starters, maybe in shorter blocker for Puk and Luzardo, young pitchers with relatively recent surgeries. The A’s pitching depth should help them get through a few rotations, until the starters are properly stretched out.

 

Sean Manaea considering wearing mask in starts during 2020 MLB season

Sean Manaea considering wearing mask in starts during 2020 MLB season

With baseball activities picking back up over the weekend, we've seen most players wearing a mask during drills at ballparks around the country.

A's starter Sean Manaea is considering taking the precautionary measure a step further.

While speaking with media in Oakland on Sunday, the left-handed pitcher admitted he's considering wearing a mask during his starts this season.

While MLB isn't forcing players to wear a mask while playing, Manaea's action would go a long way to protecting himself and his A's teammates.

Masks have become a hot-button subject around the country, but baseball players know that they are walking a fine line between playing the 2020 MLB season and having it canceled because too many players contracted the coronavirus.

Even with the season cut down from 162 to 60 games, the A's have high expectations this year, and Manaea's presence on the field will go a long way to determining if they can achieve their goal of winning the World Series or if they will fall short again.

[RELATED: Diekmans appreciate Melvin's message to A's]

Manaea, 28, is expected to be one of the leaders of the A's rotation, along with veteran Mike Fiers. Last season, Manaea pitched in only five games after recovering from left shoulder surgery. But in those five starts, he was dominant, to the tune of a 1.21 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 29 2/3 innings.

The A's need that version of Manaea this season, and if it means wearing a mask during his start, it's a move he's willing to consider.

Jake Diekman's wife appreciates Bob Melvin's message to A's players

Jake Diekman's wife appreciates Bob Melvin's message to A's players

A's reliever Jake Diekman is considered a high-risk player for the 2020 MLB season, but as of now, he has no plans to opt out.

So that means his teammates need to be extra cautious regarding the coronavirus. If one of them contracts the virus, they could pass it to Diekman. That outcome could end up being very bad.

Since the age of 11, Diekman has had ulcerative colitis, a disease that affects the colon. In 2016, Diekman underwent surgery to remove his colon. A year later, he had a second procedure where doctors used his small intestines to create a "J-Pouch," a replacement colon.

No one understands the risk to Diekman more than A's manager Bob Melvin.

During a Zoom conference call with A's reporters Saturday, Melvin mentioned that he plans to address his team Sunday about taking the coronavirus precautions as seriously as possible.

“How important it is to try to stay in as much of a bubble as we possibly can,” Melvin said, according to The San Francisco Chronicle's Matt Kawahara. “It is literally like it is in real life, understanding that you’re doing this for the person next to you, too.

"You’re staying healthy for not only yourself and your family but your teammates and their families.”

Melvin will be sure to mention Diekman.

“His name will come up as well, that it’s very important to take this seriously,” Melvin said, according to Kawahara.

Melvin's comments made their way to Amanda Diekman, Jake's wife.

[RELATED: Diekman dominated TikTok during stoppage]

Melvin is widely loved by his players, and this is another example of why. He cares about all the guys.

The A's acquired Diekman last July from the Kansas City Royals, and re-signed him to a two-year contract this offseason. The 34-year-old is expected to be a key piece of Melvin's bullpen this season.