OAKLAND — Identifying capable, healthy starting pitchers was a day-to-day proposition for the A’s at times this season.
Out of that hardship, the A’s wound up uncovering some promising rotation candidates, to the point that manager Bob Melvin now looks at his starting staff as a strength.
“The rotation, for me, is a real area of strength going into next year,” Melvin said. “Guys coming back from injury, the emergence of these younger guys, and several of them. So I’m excited with where our rotation’s going.”
One key to it all would be a return to form for Sonny Gray, who battled command issues and injuries in a frustrating year that saw the 2015 Cy Young finalist post a 5-11 record and 5.69 ERA. Melvin expressed confidence that the stormy times will enable Gray to come back stronger.
“He’s very driven,” Melvin said, “and our conversations were this is a year you’re gonna learn from this, and you’re gonna be better for it even though it was very uncomfortable. … He expected to have a big year. Yeah, it was tough to have to go through, but I think he’s gonna be better for it.”
Kendall Graveman and rookie Sean Manaea will join Gray in the 2017 rotation. Melvin didn’t offer a prediction for the starting five beyond those three. But rookie Jharel Cotton made a very good impression in five starts and will be a strong candidate to win a spot in the spring.
Raul Alcantara and Daniel Mengden will be in the mix, and eventually the A’s hope to welcome back Chris Bassitt and Felix Doubront from Tommy John surgery, though that may not be at the start of next season.
Don’t be surprised if the A’s look to duplicate last winter’s successful signing of Rich Hill, as executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane said the team would try to add a veteran starter.
“I would say probably we would consider that, but it would have to be the right guy,” Beane said. “I do think we’ll have a good group of young guys to choose from coming into spring training.”
It’s all part of winning the battle of attrition. Beane said he thought the A’s had sufficient rotation depth this season. Then Bassitt and Doubront required reconstructive elbow surgery. Henderson Alvarez never returned as expected and wound up requiring a second shoulder surgery that leaves his career in limbo. Hill, Manaea and Gray all hit the DL in the first half to offer just a sample of the A’s hard luck.
That’s why the A’s try to show up to spring training with nine or 10 legitimate rotation options. On Monday, Beane talked up a bit player that he thinks can be instrumental in 2017: Right-hander Andrew Triggs.
Selected off waivers from Baltimore in March, the 27-year-old Triggs made his big league debut in April and shuttled repeatedly between the majors and minors as a reliever. Thrust into a starting role in August out of necessity, Triggs held opponents to a .182 average over a four-start stretch before he too had his season ended by injury.
That’s quite a small sample size, but Beane says the A’s research and analysis suggests Triggs could thrive in a starting role.
“I think we might have found something long-term there,” he said. “Again, sometimes out of crises come opportunities to discover some things that you (normally) wouldn’t have.”
Melvin considers Jesse Hahn a candidate to rebound and re-establish himself in the A’s rotation after a 2016 season that began in the minors and included shoulder issues.
“This is a guy you would think, when we came to spring training, he would be cemented in our rotation,” Melvin said. “He had a tough spring and got humbled in that he had to go down to Triple-A. … (But) he is a guy that could emerge very quickly if he is healthy for us come next spring as well.”