OAKLAND — With the trade deadline fast approaching, the Oakland Athletics have been mentioned as a possible destination for the likes of Madison Bumgarner, Noah Syndergaard and a handful of others that could help them move beyond just the wild card game.
While the A’s — may wind up making more moves as July 31 approaches, they’re one of the few teams that can and will improve without making a single transaction.
Stephen Piscotty is close to returning from a knee injury, Sean Manaea may be as close as two starts away from joining the rotation for the first time in a year and a pair of relief arms could be nearing readiness to help Oakland down the stretch.
“We have some guys that are down we think that can help us, and who knows what the trade deadline will bring,” said manager Bob Melvin. “Sean was the leader of the rotation last year. You can get incrementally better from within, and not have it necessarily have to be a trade.”
Currently sitting as the second American League wild card after posting the Major Leagues’ second-best record since May 16 (39-20), getting Manaea back would be a big boost after he posted a 3.59 ERA and 108 strikeouts in 27 starts.
Manaea could be as close as two weeks from returning to the big league club. The A’s ace in 2018, in his fourth rehab start coming off surgery on his left rotator cuff last September, threw 76 pitches (48 strikes), striking out seven in 4 1/3 innings for Triple-A Las Vegas on Wednesday. In his first start for the Aviators, he allowed five runs (all earned) on five hits, including three home runs.
In his four rehab starts, Manaea has thrown 12 2/3 innings with a 9.95 ERA, but has been on pitch counts in his first action against live hitters. Over his next two outings, he’ll be stretched out to 90-plus pitches, and then, the numbers will matter a bit more.
“More than anything, he’s healthy today, he got to the pitch count that we wanted him to,” Melvin said. “The next two, we’ll probably look at [numbers] little more so. He’ll be up to 90, maybe a little plus, the next one. We’ll see where we are after that. I think, from what everybody said, veto was what it was expected to be, and his location was good, his command was good, and I think that’s what we’re looking for mostly.”
The A’s would have to bring him up after a prospective second start. The window for pitchers on a 40-man roster to rehab is 30 days. Since Manaea is in his seventh professional season, he is no longer eligible to be optioned back to the minor leagues unless he clears waivers.
Piscotty — who went down with a right knee strain while sliding into second in Anaheim late last month — got in some outfield work on Thursday, then ran the bases for the second time in a week, cutting and sliding. He’d already run the bases in Houston, in humidity and heat that tested the recovering muscle.
“Doing the curves and the arcs, which bothered it before, wasn’t bothering it nearly as much, so I feel like I’m really close,” Piscotty said. “I felt like I was pretty dang close to full intensity.”
If all goes well on Thursday and Friday, Piscotty could be sent out to a rehab assignment either with Single-A Stockton or Triple-A Las Vegas during this weekend’s series against the Texas Rangers. There’s no prescribed number of at-bats which he’ll need before he’s ready, and part of that is because of the strong job of his fill-in.
While Piscotty slugged .491 last season with 27 home runs and a .267 average, and was a potential middle-of-the-lineup hitter with a plus glove in right, he had a rough start to this season. Before he went down, Piscotty was only hitting .242 with nine home runs. In his absence, Mark Canha has hit .273 with 10 walks, five home runs, two doubles, a triple and 13 runs during his 17 starts in right field.
“I know he’d like to have some success and feel good about his at-bats when he gets back, so there’s no timetable for him yet,” Melvin said. “There’s no set amount of at-bats. We always feel like depth’s important to us, whether it’s Chad Pinder, whether it’s Mark Canha, we have guys we feel like we can put in the lineup and not miss a beat.”
AJ Puk, who would join the A’s as a reliever once he gets his rehab starts in, pitched on Tuesday in Las Vegas, and allowed just one hit in two innings, striking out two on 17 pitches, 13 strikes.
Jharel Cotton, who would also come up to aid the bullpen, and like Puk is coming off of Tommy John, threw one inning on Tuesday, but allowed two runs — both earned — on two hits and a walk, with no strikeouts. In three outings with the Aviators, Cotton, who was on the cusp of being a part of last year’s rotation before going down, has a 14.73 ERA over 3 2/3 innings. He had a 6.00 ERA in nine innings over four appearances with Single-A Stockton.
“I think it’s still going to be an ongoing process with Cotton at this point,” Melvin said.