OAKLAND — Injured Oakland Athletics right-hander threw a bullpen on Sunday, his first step back towards returning to the Major Leagues at the end of his 60-day disabled list stint.
“He threw well,” manager Bob Melvin said. “I haven’t gotten the report on it yet, but he was on the mound.”
Blackburn threw 20 pitches, and will advance to 30 next time out.
“There’s a natural progression that we go through to get them ready to go pitch rehab games,” Melvin said. “It’s any number of bullpens, and then he would throw to hitters. It’s still a little bit of a progression, but the fact that he was throwing off the mound is very encouraging.”
Blackburn was initially shut down because of forearm tightness late in spring training, and before he could resume throwing, was shifted to the 60-day disabled list on April 5. He began a throwing program on April 20 by playing catch up to 60 feet, and was stretched out to 90 feet at the end of April. He threw on flat ground on Friday.
Blackburn, who was 3-1 with a 3.22 ERA in 10 starts last season for Oakland, could return to the active roster by the A’s next homestand. With the re-emergence of Trevor Cahill —who struck out 12 Orioles in six innings on Saturday — and Brett Anderson, who held the Seattle Mariners to two hits in 6 1/3 innings in his first start on May 2 — Blackburn’s return doesn’t need to be rushed.
“You get an Anderson, you get a Cahill, we’ll probably go after [Mark] Mulder at some point, maybe [Barry] Zito will make a comeback, so it’s a little bit of Back to the Future here, but these guys are pitching well, so a lot of credit to keeping themselves ready. It was a tough spring for guys like that, that didn’t have jobs, especially until late. It’s impressive what they’re doing.”
Cahill signed with the A’s on March 19, and Anderson signed on March 22, both well into spring training.
The A’s, Melvin said, still also have Opening Day starter Kendall Graveman in their back pocket. Graveman — who went 0-5 in six starts with an 8.89 ERA in 28 1/3innings — had mechanical and mental issues he needed to get sorted out, Melvin said, when he was sent down to Triple-A Nashville on April 26.
“He’ll be back here at some point,” Melvin said. “You get off to the type of start that he did, now there’s pressure on you each and every game to have to win. He’s going through some mechanical changes in his wind-up, his pitch complement’s a little bit different, so we felt like it was prudent for him to go down there and pitch without the pressures of being here, and try to upgrade his repertoire, and then come back and do his thing like we’ve seen him do in the past.”
Graveman has made one start with the Sounds — on May 1 — going 5 2/3 innings and allowing six earned runs on 11 hits. He’s slated to go again on Sunday.
“His first start was in Colorado Springs, and he gave up some runs,” Melvin said. “His first four innings were perfect, and he got nicked up a little bit one inning, and then gave up a homer I think in the sixth inning. In Colorado Springs, on top of that, it’s tough to evaluate pitching there.”
Left fielder Matt Joyce — batting second on Sunday for the sixth time this season — has been in a bit of a funk. He took a nice route on a would-be run-scoring double to make a wall-crashing catch on Friday, but at the plate, he’s had a rough series. Against the Orioles, he’s gone 1-for-10, and has just two hits in his last 11 games.
“Guys go through some struggles,” Melvin said. “For a guy that takes a lot of pitches and draws a lot of walks, maybe a little bit anxious at the plate right now. He’s also getting pitched pretty tough, too. I’m back, looking at some videos of his at-bats, and he’s really not getting too many good pitches to hit right now. Again, everybody goes through some struggles over the course of the season. This is just a small sample for him.”