OAKLAND — Oakland A’s starting pitcher Paul Blackburn threw on flat ground on Friday, an encouraging sign for manager Bob Melvin and a pitching staff that has four pitchers on the disabled list just a month into the season.
“He threw on flat ground today, so I think during this homestand, we’ll get him [throwing] off the mound,” Melvin said. “Not sure what day that will be, as of yet.”
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. 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.
Reliever Ryan Buchter is not throwing yet, after going on the 10-day disabled list on April 27 with a left shoulder strain. He is currently doing strength exercises. Australian righty Liam Hendriks has started to play catch, but not off the mound.
Because of those three injuries — and Jharel Cotton, out with Tommy John surgery — the A’s acquired struggling righty Wilmer Font from the Dodgers in late April. Font, who led the offense-happy Pacific Coast League in strikeouts in 2017 — has made just one appearance for Oakland, throwing two innings last week against Houston and giving up three home runs.
“We had him for a reason,” Melvin said. “He has a big arm, led the PCL in strikeouts last year, haven’t been able to get him in. We’ve had some games that have been a little bit closer than we’d be comfortable right now, with him, being our length guy. You either want him to potentially give you three or four innings,”
For Oklahoma City in 2017, Font was 10-8 with a 3.42 ERA, starting 25 games. In nine minor league seasons, Font has started 105 games, so he has the potential to get stretched out, should the A’s need a spot start or even a few turns in the rotation.
“That’s part of the reason we got him, is depth, either length in the bullpen or potential starter,” Melvin said. “It’s tough to expect him to start at this point, based on his workload here, the last month, but definitely has the ability to … He’s started before, he does have a big arm, he’s working on some adjustments, mechanically. We think he has a bright future ahead of him. We just haven’t been able to get him out there enough, as of late.”
Oakland’s center fielder of the future, 23-year old Dustin Fowler, is heating up in a big way, and the big club may not be able to keep him down on the farm for long.
He has multiple hits in six of his last 10 games for Triple-A Nashville, is the owner of a current five-game hitting streak, his longest of the season. Over the last 10 games, he has driven in eight with two home runs, two triples and four doubles, with 33 total bases in that span.
“I can’t really give you a timetable on that, but he’s swinging the bat pretty well, and here in the last week, it looks like he’s been getting two and three hits a game. He’s swinging the bat pretty well. At some point in time this season, he will be here. I’m just not sure exactly what date that will be.”