OAKLAND -– A’s players said their goodbyes to left-hander Scott Kazmir shortly before taking the field for Thursday’s matinee against the Toronto Blue Jays.
It’s not the typical way to prepare for a game, but when the end of July approaches, players in Oakland’s clubhouse know that such farewells come with the territory.
Kazmir was traded to the Houston Astros for two minor leaguers just a couple hours before he was scheduled to pitch against the Blue Jays. It’s expected that other A’s veterans could also be shipped out of Oakland, with the team nine games under .500 and contending clubs ready to swoop in on some of the A’s best players.
“We’ve seen it happen here many times before,” right fielder Josh Reddick said. “In my four years, I’ve seen a lot of guys come and go. There’s not a lot of common names in this clubhouse that stick around for too long, it seems. But that’s not gonna change mine or this team’s mindset on how to go out there and win a ballgame.”
That’s the challenge moving forward. There are 65 games left on the schedule, and A’s manager Bob Melvin has to keep his team’s focus on the present even as the front office is beginning to make moves with an eye toward the future.
“If you get too far out and worry about what potentially can happen, or what the next shoe to drop is, then you’re not focused on what we’re doing today,” Melvin said after a 5-2 loss to the Blue Jays. “That will be my rhetoric to guys. Look, there’s nothing we can do about this. We’re going to go out there with the same expectations -- try to win today’s game and not look too far out.”
First and foremost, the A’s need to sort out their starting rotation. Drew Pomeranz, who has been working as a setup man, made the emergency start Thursday in place of Kazmir. The A’s had him on a 45-pitch limit, and he gave up two runs in 1 2/3 innings. Melvin indicated that Pomeranz will likely shift back into the rotation for the time being.
Though the A’s still haven’t made it official, Chris Bassitt is likely to be recalled from Triple-A Nashville to start Saturday against the Giants. That’s the slot that belongs to Jesse Hahn, who is out indefinitely with a forearm injury. So the A’s current rotation goes Sonny Gray, Pomeranz, Jesse Chavez, Bassitt and Kendall Graveman.
A byproduct of Kazmir’s trade is that Barry Zito’s chances of returning to the majors in green and gold suddenly look a lot more realistic. Zito, after sitting out all of last season, has gradually rounded into form at Triple-A and currently holds a 3.54 ERA. Should anyone in the rotation falter or need a break -– and figure that could apply to anyone in the starting five outside of Gray –- Zito will be one of the top options as a replacement.
“It makes it closer, gives him more of a shot now with Kaz going,” Melvin said. “He pitched well again (Wednesday) night, so when it started out in spring training as a long shot, all he did was pitch himself into the potential of coming here, and (the trade) adds to that.”
Kazmir was driving to the ballpark Thursday morning when he got a call from general manager Billy Beane informing him of the trade. He addressed reporters shortly after, and the shock still hadn’t worn off. On the plus side, the Houston native is going home and joining a team that’s challenging for the postseason.
“I was coming in expecting to pitch against the Blue Jays today,” Kazmir said. “You get the news, it’s something you gotta wrap your head around. I had a great time here. I’m gonna miss all the guys, the staff, everyone top to bottom.”
Just two years after resurrecting his career pitching in independent league ball, Kazmir signed a two-year $22 million deal with the A’s in 2014, which seemed a costly gamble for the team. The lefty paid back that faith by becoming an All-Star last season and posting a 2.38 ERA this season.
“I’m in my 18th year (as GM), and he’s one of the best free agents I’ve had,” Beane said. “He’s a great pitcher, and he was a great role model for some of these guys, particularly Sonny Gray. I couldn’t say enough great things about him.”