Oakland Athletics: Starting rotation troubles just keep coming

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 31: Daniel Mengden
OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 31: Daniel Mengden /

All aboard!  The Oakland Athletics victory train continued last night with a 4-3 win over the Houston Astros.

The Oakland Athletics have 80 wins in August! Or maybe the surprise is that the A’s have 80 wins period? Either one of those statements could have been heavily debated back in spring training… yet here we are.

The improbable march to the playoffs continued at Minute Maid Park as the A’s bounced back from a crushing defeat the night before. A win today would sew up a series win and leave the A’s only a half game back of the division lead.

After learning Sean Manaea may be out for the season, and that Brett Anderson was also headed to the disabled list, no one would have been surprised had the A’s came out flat yesterday. Instead, they showed us once again that adversity is not going to unravel this season.

The quick and dirty

Well, that escalated quickly. On Sunday, Sean Manaea was surprisingly placed on the DL with a pitching shoulder issue.  Susan Slusser, the A’s beat writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, reported the following update yesterday afternoon.

Manaea was the de facto Ace of our starting rotation and the only pitcher left from our original starting rotation back in April.

And we’re not done yet. Brett Anderson was also placed on the 10-day DL yesterday afternoon with a forearm strain. Four starting pitchers for the Oakland Athletics have already had Tommy John surgery this season and now this?

I don’t believe anyone is surprised by the Brett Anderson injury. The surprise here is that it didn’t happen sooner. Anderson’s career is littered with DL stints and this year has been no exception as he spent all of June dealing with a left shoulder strain.

I think we’ll miss Brett Anderson the left-hander more than we’ll miss Brett Anderson the pitcher over the next few weeks. It’s important for any starting rotation to have a lefty or two mixed in, especially if we run up against a left-handed heavy offense.

The injury that really hurts is Manaea. We’re two days outside of the waiver trade deadline and the list of quality starting pitchers who have passed through waivers is a short one.  We considered Fiers to be depth rotation at the time of his acquisition but how important is he now?

Short of a trade, which seems unlikely, it’s going to be the next man up approach, something the A’s have some familiarity with over the course of this season. Daniel Mengden and Frankie Montas will slide into the vacancies created by the injuries to Manaea and Anderson.

Each have shown promise at times and with a little luck, one or both will be ready to deliver five or six consistent innnings when their number is called. Mengden earned the fans confidence on Monday when he came on in relief of Anderson and shut the Astros down over 4 innings.

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If I had to pick the guy who has the best chance to fill Manaea’s shoes, it would be Mengden. He’s a throwback, crafty pitcher and it goes far beyond the Rollie Fingers mustache.

The movement on Mengden’s curveball (12.4% whiff rate this season) and slider are excellent, and when he’s locating these pitches, he can be a handful. What really grabs me though is Mengden’s approach to pitching.

It’s an old school, grind it out style that frustrates hitters to no end. Next time you watch Mengden take the mound, watch how often he changes his routine… or rather, that he simply doesn’t have one.

You’ll see Mengden alternate his number of foot taps on the mound during the middle of his windup. Or he’ll double-clutch when his hands are taking the ball over his head.  And he’ll often vary the times between pitches as well. (feed courtesy of MLB.com)

All in an effort to keep hitters off balance. For A’s fans who enjoy the art of pitching as much as watching good offense, Mengden is a gift on the mound.

Montas and Mengden won’t be the only options to fill-in as David Forst, the A’s General Manager, also made mention to Susan Slusser that the Oakland Athletics may go the route of Tampa Bay and put together some bullpen starts.

The “opener” is debuting here in Oakland (as I scratch my head). Baseball is changing and while I’m more of a purist, I’ll embrace any strategy that proves to be successful. This season has delivered far more than I could have imagined and if a bullpen start or two keeps the dream alive, count me in.

New stadium plans should feel all too familiar. dark. Next

Looking ahead, the A’s have a day game today against Houston (last time we will face Houston in the regular season) followed by a four game series against the Mariners at home beginning tomorrow. September baseball is upon us folks… enjoy it!