OAKLAND — The Oakland Athletics placed All-Star closer Blake Treinen on the 10-day injured list on Sunday, in another blow to a pitching staff that just lost ace starter Frankie Montas to a PED suspension two days prior.
The injury is a mild shoulder strain, specifically in his rotator cuff, which Treinen said had been bothering him off and on for a couple weeks.
“Blake has a mild shoulder issue, it’s muscular in nature,” manager Bob Melvin confirmed on Saturday, after the pitcher underwent an MRI that morning.
The right-hander posted historically great numbers in 2018, becoming the first pitcher ever to finish a season with at least 100 strikeouts, 30 saves (38), and an ERA below 1.00 (0.78), but he hasn’t matched that performance so far this summer. His ERA has climbed to 4.08, and despite only two blown saves he hasn’t been the lockdown presence he was last year.
In particular, Treinen’s walk rate has skyrocketed. He’s issued 21 free passes in 35 1/3 innings, which already matches his total from all of last season when he threw 80 1/3 innings, and in one of his losses in April he walked in the walk-off run. He’s also given up over twice as many earned runs as last year and has already exceeded his 2018 home run total, all while throwing his slider far less often than he had before. In his most recent outing, he allowed three runs without recording an out.
However, Treinen wasn’t interested in blaming his struggles on the injury.
“Anybody that pitches has tenderness to throw through,” said Treinen. “Most days I felt pretty good, certain days pretty restricted.”
Treinen’s off-year has been just one factor driving the inconsistency of Oakland’s bullpen, which is tied for the American League lead with 15 blown saves. Setup man Lou Trivino has contributed four of those, amid his own sophomore slump after a breakout 2018 rookie campaign, and left-hander Ryan Buchter has four after not blowing a single one last year. Joakim Soria, the team’s most expensive free agent signing of the offseason, has put up a 5.05 ERA.
In Treinen’s absence, the A’s turned to Liam Henriks in the ninth inning on Saturday. The right-hander retired the side in order to seal a 4-2 victory against the Tampa Bay Rays, earning just the second save of his Major League career, spanning 280 appearances. Melvin suggested that Hendriks would continue to close while Treinen is out.
Hendriks leads the A’s with a sparkling 1.49 ERA, and the rest of his stats back up that success. He’s striking out well over a batter per inning, with nearly three Ks per walk, and he’s allowed just one homer in 42 1/3 frames. Statcast also loves his underlying performance, rating him the best on the team in its expected metric called xwOBA, which includes measures such as exit velocity.
That’s quite an improvement over 2018, when Hendriks was designated for assignment in June and didn’t get claimed by a single team on waivers. He did return to the majors in September and pitched well as a first-inning opener, but then he got the call to start the team’s postseason Wild Card Game in October and allowed a pair of runs to take the loss. From 2016 through 2018 combined, he put together a pedestrian 4.01 ERA despite consistently high strikeout rates.
“He’s doing a lot of things better,” said Melvin of Hendriks’ newfound success. “He’s throwing harder. His long toss, he’s got a new routine, as far as his throwing goes. He’s got a better breaking ball, he can throw it for a strike, it used to just be kind of a chase pitch. He’s quicker to the plate now with guys on base. He’s throwing a curveball, so it’s basically three pitches with the slider and the curveball. So it’s a lot of things, and it’s a drastic difference from what you’ve seen in the past to now.”
To replace Treinen on the roster, reliever Brian Schlitter was recalled from Triple-A Las Vegas. The right-hander last appeared in the majors in 2015 for the Chicago Cubs, and carries a career 5.40 ERA in 71 2/3 innings. The groundball specialist kept two-thirds of his batted balls on the ground the last two seasons in Triple-A, which is an enormous rate, and he also struck out more than five batters per walk in Vegas this year to go with a 3.89 ERA.
The A’s wrap up their four-game series against the Rays on Sunday, having won two of three so far, and also their 10-game homestand, with six wins already in the bank. Brett Anderson takes the mound for Oakland, looking to make his fourth straight quality start.