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Oakland Athletics: Dustin Fowler could start against Sonny Gray and New York Yankees

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Sonny Gray will start against the A’s on Friday, and will likely face Dustin Fowler, the former Yankees prospect for whom he was traded at the deadline in 2017. (Jacob C. Palmer/S.F. Examiner)

OAKLAND — Towards the end of his 12-strikeout, six-inning performance in Saturday’s 2-0 12-inning marathon, Oakland Athletics starter Trevor Cahill began to feel his elbow barking.

That night, it stiffened up. He began to feel pain two days later. After an MRI revealed a slight impingement, he and the A’s decided it would be best to go on the 10-day disabled list, get some rest and miss a start.

“He’s had some injuries in previous seasons; he’s not 25-years old anymore,” said manager Bob Melvin.

That move allowed the A’s to call up what manager Bob Melvin called the “center fielder of the future,” in 23-year old Dustin Fowler, who’s hit .370 over the last 14 games. Fittingly enough, he’ll likely see his first significant action this week against the New York Yankees, who traded him last July 31 for Sonny Gray.

“He’s been swinging good,” Melvin said. “We knew he’d be here at some point. We wanted to make sure he was swinging the bat well, got plenty of at-bats. He basically missed an entire season last year.”

With two outs in the first defensive inning of Fowler’s Major League debut last year with the New York Yankees, Fowler chased down a Jose Abreu slicing drive down the right field line., He ran barreled into a low fence and railing, flipping over the barrier and into the crowd.

The collision ruptured his patellar tendon, and he didn’t even get to take an at-bat in his first big league game. Then, a month later, he was traded to Oakland as part of the deal that sent Gray to the Bronx.

Fowler played in 19 games for the A’s this spring, hitting .222 with two doubles and five RBIs, stealing three bases. So far for the Nashville Sounds, he’s fourth in Triple-A baseball with eight stolen bases in 30 games.

“We saw it in spring,” Melvin said. “It was a progression. We had him, for the most part, a couple months before spring training started, and went through his running progression. We got him to the point in spring training where he was just playing, as opposed to worrying. He’s got a real knack for stealing bases.”

The A’s are currently 29th out of 30 Major League teams in stolen bases (7), with leadoff hitter Marcus Semien having swiped just three.

He may not start at leadoff right away, but there’s certainly the possibility he winds up there, moving Semien — who has a .325 OBP — down in the order.

“We’ll see how that goes. Marcus is doing a pretty good job with leadoff right now. I don’t know if I’d stick him right into that role. If he swings the bat well, you could see him there at some point, but we really like what Marcus is doing right now.”

With a revolving door in center field, the A’s will stick the left-handed-hitting Fowler right in the mix, while still getting Mark Canha consistent at-bats against lefties.

“You talk about your center fielder of the future, this is the guy we’ve targeted for that,” Melvin said. “Against righties, he’ll get plenty of starts. There’s no reason to bring him here and not play him.”

Now, he may very well start the first of a 10-game road trip when the A’s head to New York after a travel day on Thursday.

“I won’t commit to it now, but there’s an excellent chance,” Melvin said. “Being in New York, he’ll probably get his first at-bat, maybe today. This is a real athletic player that was a big part of a huge trade for us. When you trade a Sonny Gray, you bring back players like that. It’s exciting. I know he’ll be excited about it, and probably a little more so, because it’s against the Yankees.”

Gray is slated to start on Friday in the series opener against an as-yet-unnamed starter for Oakland.

“He’s pretty good when he’s on,” said Melvin, who managed Gray for his four-and-a-half year career in Oakland, before he was traded at the deadline last season. “You try to make him work a little bit and throw some pitches.”

This season, Gray has started seven games for New York, with a 6.00 ERA in 33 innings of work. He’s struck out 30 and walked 21, but has only pitched into the sixth twice and is averaging 87 pitches per start.

“We’ll try to see how he’s doing early in the game, and we’ll have an approach for him,” Melvin said. “When he’s good, he makes it difficult.”

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