OAKLAND — The Chicago Cubs ran out their top three starters from a stacked rotation at the Coliseum this weekend.
The A’s? They’d settle for just having three starters.
That probably reads ridiculous, but it’s reality. As the A’s wave goodbye to the Cubs and their major league-best 69-41 record, they welcome in another division leader in the Baltimore Orioles, who arrive Monday for a four-game series. The A’s do so with just two legitimate, healthy starters at their disposal.
Kendall Graveman is one, and he takes the ball in Monday night’s series opener. The other is rookie Sean Manaea, and he tried his best Sunday to give the A’s a fighting chance to avoid a sweep. Aside from two poorly located fastballs, both of which went for solo home runs, it was a good day’s work for Manaea over six-plus innings in the A’s 3-1 loss.
He realizes that he and Graveman are carrying the flag right now for Oakland’s starting staff, in light of Sonny Gray and Jesse Hahn joining the disabled list in the past three days and Dillon Overton being sent to the minors. It’s not a stretch to say the A’s, who have placed eight starting pitchers on the disabled list this season, are making up their rotation as they go along.
“It is pretty frustrating, because I know everybody wants to be out here and do what they can to help the team,” Manaea said. “When you have injuries, it just kinda sucks. But I know when they are able to come back, we’re gonna be rolling. For me, I’ve just got to keep the course and try not to get too ahead of myself.”
[INSTANT REPLAY: Cubs shut down A's offense again, complete sweep]
The A’s got bottled up Sunday by right-hander Kyle Hendricks, who may be the least well-known of the Cubs’ starters but held the A’s to three hits over 7 1/3 innings and lowered his ERA to 2.17, second in the National League only to Clayton Kershaw.
The best storyline of the day for Oakland came with the ninth-inning appearance of 35-year-old reliever Chris Smith, who was called up Sunday morning and made his first major league appearance in six years. He turned in a scoreless inning, striking out Dexter Fowler looking and surrendering just a bunt single.
Smith was a fourth-round draft pick of Boston back in 2002 and spent six-plus seasons in the minors before finally making his major league debut in 2008 at age 27. He made 50 appearances, all in relief, for Boston and Milwaukee from 2008-10. The next five years included stints with two independent league teams — the Wichita Wingnuts and the Sugar Land Skeeters — as he bounced around before signing a minor league contract with the A’s before this season.
Smith has been a steady presence in the rotation for Triple-A Nashville, posting a 3.93 ERA in 22 starts. He got news of his promotion Saturday and took Gray’s roster spot as Gray joined the DL with a strained forearm. Smith was asked if emotions were running high Sunday.
“Not during the game,” he said. “It was probably a little emotional when they told me last night, and I contacted my wife and three daughters.”
Opportunities arise with a pitching staff that’s endured as much turnover as the A’s. Gray, who declined comment to reporters after the game about his forearm, will get examined by a team doctor and likely have an MRI.
Long reliever Zach Neal will start Tuesday’s game, but the A’s have yet to announce who will start Wednesday and Thursday. They’ve run through “Plan B” after “Plan B” this season, called up highly regarded prospects earlier than they’d prefer, and are burning through so many pitchers from the farm system that they’ve needed to promote pitchers in the lower ranks just to keep their Triple-A staff fully stocked.
“It’s hard,” manager Bob Melvin said. “But it also gives opportunity for somebody else in the organization to get a chance.”