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.
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"(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."