Barber: Is Jesus Luzardo the starter Oakland A's need?
The A’s starting rotation has changed a lot in a year. Heck, it has changed quite a bit in a month, and every indication suggests it will continue to evolve over the next two weeks.
The Athletics may or may not have an ace. They may have three capable starters, or seven. These are relevant issues, too, because the playoffs are approaching, and Oakland is hoping to take part in them. And when the postseason visits Major League Baseball, starting pitchers are more valuable than Popeye’s chicken sandwiches.
To be honest, the Oakland staff has been pretty good this year. With half the arms in the system beginning the year on ice, the long arms were supposed to be the weak link. They really haven’t been.
“I think the starting rotation is very similar to the way that we’ve done things the whole year, where they’ve been undervalued,” closer Liam Hendriks told me before Monday’s game, a stunning 6-5 loss to the Kansas City Royals. “Like we got a bunch of guys who don’t have the flashy numbers, don’t have a ton of strikeouts or things like this, but they compete and they keep us in almost every game.”
That has been true for most of the season, but lately the A’s starting pitching has reached a new level of possibility — largely due to the return of Sean Manaea.
Manaea’s torn labrum in August of 2018 broke the A’s hearts, and perhaps their chances of playoff success that year. He rehabbed for so long, he began to feel like a mythic character. But he’s real, and he’s spectacular.
Manaea returned to make his first start of 2019 on September 1, and has been virtually untouchable in his three starts, giving up one run and six hits in 18 innings of work. Manaea has 21 strikeouts in those 18 innings, though he never appears to be breaking a sweat.
“I don’t think anybody could have envisioned — what has he given up, one run in the three starts?” A’s manager Bob Melvin said Monday. “And he looks like he’s in midseason form. And every time out, like he got in a little bit of trouble the other day, but he finished up like he has all three starts. We were hoping we got that guy, but this is probably a little bit more than we expected.”
Hendriks likened Manaea to “a big midseason trade acquisition that we were able to get.”
His arrival came in the nick of time, because it has coincided with a couple of troubling developments in the A’s rotation. Mike Fiers, their best starting pitcher all season long, left his previous start with arm nerve irritation and, though the team remains optimistic, was scheduled to get an MRI exam Tuesday. And Chris Bassitt, an under-the-radar star for this team earlier in the season, has hit a rough stretch that was capped Friday by the Rangers knocking him around for six earned run in three innings.
Unlike last year, though, the A’s have rotational depth, thanks to a couple of actual midseason trade acquisitions.
Homer Bailey, acquired from Kansas City on July 14, has gone 6-2 with Oakland. And Tanner Roark had been even better than that. He came in a July 31 trade with Cincinnati, and took a 4-1 record, a 3.40 earned run average and a pretty WHIP (walks + hits per innings pitched) of 1.181 into Monday’s game.