Oakland Athletics starter Sean Manaea optimistic for return, Melvin not so much

OAKLAND — The day after his last start on August 24, Oakland Athletics left-hander Sean Manaea felt what he thought was normal soreness. Then, he played catch the next day, and felt it again.

“I’ve been sore there before, but this was a little more intense,” Manaea said. “Usually, after Day Two, it’s fine, but on the second day, it was the same, and I knew I wasn’t right.”

It was not something Manaea had felt the rest of the season, as he’s dropped 3 mph on his fastball, but it was concerning enough to land him on the 10-day disabled list. An MRI revealed tendonitis in his rotator cuff, making Manaea one of seven Oakland starters this season who have spent time on the disabled list, including Brett Anderson, who has been diagnosed with irritation of his ulnar nerve. He was optimistic about his chances of pitching again during the regular season.

“That’s the hope, I can’t really say how it’s going to feel,” said Manaea, who is resting the shoulder and taking anti-inflammatories. “I’m on a dose pack right now, and we’re going to see how that is, and if I can throw, great. If not, we’ll just take it from there.”

Manager Bob Melvin pegged his ace’s chances of returning during the regular season at less than 50 percent.

“The longer this goes on and the more we hear about what’s going on with him and how he feels, I think it’s going be tough for him to make it,” Melvin said. “I’m not going to say 100 percent sure that he won’t be able to, but at this point it’s probably less than 50-50.”

Given that the A’s are 2 1/2 games back of the Houston Astros for the AL West, 5 1/2 games ahead of the visiting Seattle Mariners for the second AL Wild Card spot and 4 1/2 games behind the New York Yankees (who visit next week) for the first Wild Card slot, the timing is less than ideal.

“It’s super frustrating,” Manaea said. “I feel like I’m letting everyone down. It really, really sucks that it has to happen right now, but there’s nothing I can do about it, except try and get healthy, and help us at the end of the season.”

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Anderson, who followed Manaea to the disabled list, will sit down with doctors on Thursday night to formulate a game plan on how to deal with his ulnar nerve irritation.

With all the injuries the A’s have sustained — they’ve started 13 different pitchers this season — Melvin still doesn’t feel snake bit.

“It’s happened kind of in waves since spring training, so at this point, not really,” Melvin said. “You expect some injuries, maybe not as many as we’ve had. Obviously the Manaea situation, with a guy that’s been basically our ace the entire season, stings a little bit more, not that any of these don’t hurt. But, if you sit around and feel sorry for yourself and thing you’re snake bit, thats’ a distraction you don’t need.”

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Oakland brought back Daniel Mengden last week, who exorcised some personal demons with a four-inning shut-down relief appearance in Houston, his hometown, against the team he’d grown up footing for in the Astros. Before his latest appearance, Mengden was 0-1 in two starts, with 10 earned runs in seven innings.

Mengden will start on Saturday against Mariners ace James Paxton.

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Andrew Triggs, one of the A’s injured starters, will go out on a rehab assignment soon, after having thrown off the mound. There was no update on Paul Blackburn (right elbow lateral epicondylitis), another injured starter, who played catch two weeks ago.

Blackburn was one of the projected starters to begin the season. Here’s what’s happened to each: Kendall Gravemen, the Opening Day starter, has had Tommy John surgery. Manaea is now down. Jharel Cotton has undergone Tommy John surgery. Daniel Mengden sprained his right foot. Daniel Gossett has had Tommy John surgery, as has A.J. Puk. Triggs suffered from nerve irritation and Brett Anderson now has his nerve irritation.

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In calling up Frankie Montas to start against the Mariners (“We expect big things out of him,” Melvin said), as well as J.B. Wendelken, the A’s optioned Ryan Dull and Nick Martini to Triple-A Nashville. Both, Melvin said, will be back once the rosters expand.

In 39 games, Martini hit .257 (in mid-August he was hitting over .300) with seven doubles, two triples and 12 RBIs.

“It’s certainly nothing that Nick has done,” Melvin said. “Nick has been a really consistent performer for us. We’ll miss him in the leadoff spot, certainly against right-handed pitching.”

Losing Martini means that the A’s have a two-man bench ahead of series with the Mariners and the Yankees, and even though rosters expand on Sept. 1, Nashville doesn’t end its season until Sept. 4.

“It’s certainly is not ideal to have a two-man bench,” Melvin said. “We knew at some point in time during this stretch, 20 [straight] days against the teams that we’re playing against, that our bullpen would be taxed enough to where we’d have to do something a little bit differently.”

The A’s, however, can get Dustin Fowler as soon as Sept. 1, if not sooner. He was pulled from his start in New Orleans on Thursday evening.

“It is a consideration, and potentially even sooner if we need to do something,” Melvin said. “It’s tough to go with the two-man bench, especially in a four-game series like this. We’ll see how it goes tonight, and see how the coming days go.”

Fowler, who has played 59 games with Oakland this season, has lit up the Pacific Coast League since returning to Triple-A on Aug. 1.

The A’s center fielder of the future, as Melvin continues to call him, has hit .382 since being optioned, with one home run, three triples, 10 doubles, 11 RBIs and five stolen bases in 24 games.

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Melvin praised the defense of shortstop Marcus Semien, whose defense has been the weakest point of his game throughout his career, but improved greatly with Ron Washington coaching him in 2015 and 2016.

“He’s like a good umpire, you don’t even notice him,” Melvin said.

Semien slid back a bit in 2017 after Washington left, but he’s been worth nine defensive runs saved — fourth among big league shortstops this season — and has a 7.5 UZR (ultimate zone rating, which measures a player’s effective fielding range) — also fourth, this season. He was rated 64th among shortstops with at least 90 defensive innings, with -9 defensive runs saved in 2017.

Part of Semien’s defensive renaissance can be attributed to Matt Olson, who’s third among major league first basemen in defensive runs saved (9) and second among big league first basemen in UZR (ahead of San Francisco’s Brandon Belt, who leads all first basemen in defensive runs saved).

Ryan Gorcey

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