Oakland A’s bullpen shakeup and injury updates

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We’re in the dog days of August, but the Oakland A’s new group of rookie hitters is managing to keep the end of this last-place season interesting. What about the rest of the roster, though? Here are some minor updates from the last several days.

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Injury news

  • C Josh Phegley began a rehab assignment in Triple-A Nashville on Wednesday. He last played for Oakland on July 24, and went on the disabled list a few days later with a strained oblique. He’s played two games for the Sounds this week, going 2-for-7 with a walk, three strikeouts, and a sac fly. He could be out until rosters expand in September (via Susan Slusser, S.F. Chronicle), and in the meantime Dustin Garneau is currently serving as the A’s right-handed backup catcher.
  • OF Jake Smolinski is also on rehab, down in High-A Stockton. He had one massive day (5-for-5, HR) but has otherwise been hitless, and in five games he’s 5-for-18 with two walks, two Ks, and a sac fly. The righty hasn’t played in MLB this year while recovering from shoulder surgery.
  • RHP Daniel Mengden is looking good in his own rehab from a stress reaction in his rib cage. After two dominant outings in Rookie League, he pitched well in a start for Nashville on Monday: 4 ip, 2 ER, 4 Ks, 1 BB, 1 HR.
  • RHP Bobby Wahl, who had thoracic outlet surgery this week, “will be ready for spring training” according to manager Bob Melvin (via Slusser)
  • RHP Andrew Triggs is off crutches after having hip surgery, says Slusser. The latest word was that he’s expected to be ready for the spring.
  • RHP Frankie Montas is on Nashville’s disabled list with a strained oblique, reports Athletics Farm.
  • RHP Jesse Hahn and RHP Tucker Healy have also been on Nashville’s DL for the last two weeks.

Phegley and Smolinski are both arbitration-eligible after the season, and neither has been able to stay consistently healthy over the last few years. Are they non-tender candidates at this point? In particular, the 28-year-old Smolinski is now blocked by a lot of right-handed bats in the corner outfield and DH spots (Khrush, Healy, Pinder, Nunez, Canha, soon Marincov).

Bullpen

Oakland’s bullpen has fallen apart since the trade deadline. They dealt their top two arms in Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson, and while the return package is looking totally worth it so far there are still innings to be filled and leads to be held in the present day. Here’s the latest:

  • The A’s acquired RHP Chris Hatcher from the Dodgers on Tuesday (link). The 32-year-old has been in the bigs since 2011 for the Dodgers and Marlins, consistently striking out a batter per inning (and three per walk) while converting 29-of-35 save/hold chances in his career, though his 4.70 ERA leaves something to be desired (3.97 FIP). He just returned from missing seven weeks with thoracic inflammation.
  • More on Hatcher: He’s auditioning for a role in next year’s pen, says Slusser. He threw a scoreless inning in his debut on Wednesday, with a strikeout and two flyouts to the warning track. His 95 mph fastball tops out at 97, and he complements it mainly with a slider and splitter.
  • To make room for Hatcher in Oakland, RHP Josh Smith was optioned back to Nashville. He has served as a mop-up man this year, but hasn’t stepped up beyond the level of filler.
  • They added another arm on Wednesday, this time LHP Sam Moll from the Rockies (link). The 25-year-old was a 3rd-round draft pick as recently as 2013, and he’s spent the last two years in Triple-A (4.47 ERA, 4.48 FIP in nearly 100 innings). He stands 5’10 and throws a 93-96 mph fastball and a slider (link), and while he hasn’t panned out yet he appears to be a change-of-scenery candidate with some legitimate upside.
  • To make room for Moll on the 40-man roster, RHP Zach Neal was designated for assignment on Wednesday, reports Jane Lee. He cleared waivers and was outrighted back to Nashville, according to Slusser.
  • Another recent addition from the minors, RHP Simon Castro, got a vote of confidence from BoMel, via Joe Stiglich of NBCS: “Likes ability to throw multiple innings, which this ‘pen doesn’t have surplus of.” Castro has a 2.65 ERA in 17 innings through 13 games, with a 3.90 FIP. He has things to work on, but he has the tools to be the next hidden gem in the relief corps.

Here’s the new pen:

  • Blake Treinen (R) (closer)
  • Santiago Casilla (R)
  • Ryan Dull (R)
  • Liam Hendriks (R)
  • Daniel Coulombe (L)
  • Simon Castro (R)
  • Chris Hatcher (R)
  • Michael Brady (R)

60-day DL: Bobby Wahl (R)

40-man roster: Chris Bassitt (R), Sam Moll (L), Josh Smith (R)

More Triple-A: Raul Alcantara (R), Felix Doubront (L), Lou Trivino (R), Jake Sanchez (R, but on DL), Zach Neal (R)

The two new pitchers aren’t just tank commanders here to help us play out the string. Both carry a little bit of upside and have real chances to play roles in 2018, and Moll in particular is probably the second-best lefty right now after Coulombe — the A’s have been desperately short on southpaws this year, even before trading Doo. Furthermore, they replaced Smith and Neal, a pair of actual tank commanders who profile best in mop-up duty.

Still, you have to hope that next year’s closer isn’t currently in the organization. There is an interesting collection of potential setup candidates and strong middlemen, even looking down into Triple-A (esp Alcantara, Bassitt), but there is no reliable top arm to truly seal the deal. Fortunately, there will be plenty of late-inning options in free agency next winter if the A’s choose to go that route, and they should have a ton of money to work with given the cheap youth filling the rest of the roster.

There will be more blown leads the rest of this year, but at least the landscape is slightly more promising than it was a couple weeks ago.

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