There is one big story in Oakland this week, so let’s talk it out and hopefully restore some optimism for the season.
On Friday, it was announced that Jarrod Parker (forearm) and A.J. Griffin (elbow) would likely miss the start of the regular season due to injury. It doesn’t appear as if Griffin will need surgery, just some time off. A’s fans could see him back on the mound by mid-April to early May. Jarrod Parker’s injury seems more serious. He is visiting Dr. Andrews, who is the best Tommy-John surgeon around. Typically, if you have to visit him, you need the surgery, which requires a one year recovery. We won’t find out the diagnosis until Monday for Parker, but we’re assuming the worst and hoping for the best.
Tommy Milone and Jesse Chavez will be taking over the 2 vacant spots in the rotation for the time being. After looking at each pitcher’s stats, they’re all very similar. Milone was essentially Griffin from the left side, and Chavez put up a nearly identical ERA in 2013 to Parker, granted in far fewer innings. The big question for Chavez will be if he can hold his own with more exposure to opposing lineups.
Chavez has added a cut fastball, which has lead to a very strong spring thus far. He has accumulated 12.2 innings and still holds a 0.00 ERA. One has to think that no matter how Chavez performs in the starting rotation, Bob Melvin will try to limit his innings, and get the A’s dominant bullpen into the game sooner. This shouldn’t been seen as a slight against Chavez, but the more turns through a lineup, the harder it is for the pitcher to get outs. The A’s still want him to be an effective long-relief pitcher when he returns to that roll, so limiting his exposure could be wise. If the bullpen is getting worked too much due to other starters underperforming, of course Chavez could see more than 5-6 innings. Ideally, the A’s probably would like to stay away from that.
The mantra all offseason in Oakland has been “going all in”, so don’t think that an injury or two will stop this team from competing. There is no doubt that Billy Beane will make a trade if necessary. Jeff Samardzija is a possible target because the Cubs have been dangling for awhile. He is a quality pitcher and records about a strikeout an inning. He could slide in to the 3 spot behind Gray and Kazmir, and the 4 spot whenever Parker is ready to come back. That rotation would be daunting to face. Plus, Samardzija already has long hair and unkempt facial hair, so he’d fit right in.
That leaves us with one question: who will start Opening Day on March 31st? The consensus seems to be Sonny Gray, but I am going to make a case for Scott Kazmir. Kazmir is experienced, and pitching better in spring training against higher quality hitters. Spring stats don’t count for anything, but if someone gets hot, you should ride them into the season. The A’s also open against the Indians, Kazmir’s former team, so he will undoubtedly be psyched to pitch Opening Day if called upon.
Developing a young arm can be a lot like developing a young Quarterback. There is no sure-fire way to make a player successful. In the case of Gray, it would be nice to see the A’s let him hang back for a game and experience his first Opening Day in the majors without being deemed the ace of the staff in his first full season. That is a lot of pressure for a young person to handle. Gray has the makeup and the pitches to be successful, but let’s not force the issue.
If Gray starts Opening Day, that puts him in line to face Felix Hernandez for his second start. In his 4th start he would draw Jered Weaver, and his 5th, Yu Darvish. It’s not about the Opening Day start, it’s about facing the other team’s ace every time he pitches. Sonny is too valuable to the club this year and in the future to gamble his confidence in the 1st of 162 games. Slot him 2nd, and let the veteran Scott Kazmir rise to the task. The A’s have been called the deepest team in baseball. This is their chance to prove just that.