OAKLAND — The Oakland Athletics looked like they had an ace up their sleeve for the second half of the season, but that may no longer be the case after the latest injury setback for minor league pitcher Jesus Luzardo.
The 21-year-old lefty, who ranks as the A’s top prospect and one of the best pitching prospects in the entire sport, was diagnosed with a Grade 2 lat strain on Wednesday. There is no timetable for his return.
Luzardo enjoyed a meteoric rise up the minors last year all the way to Triple-A, and was a candidate to make Oakland’s Opening Day rotation this season. However, a shoulder strain cost him the first two months of the campaign, holding him out until mid-June. He looked as sharp as ever in five minor league games since then, posting a 2.79 ERA and striking out one-third of the batters he faced, but he exited his Triple-A start early on Tuesday with tightness in his left lat, which is a large back muscle.
Muscle strains are assigned one of three grades, with Grade 2 being considered moderate. While the team didn’t set an official timetable, a wait of at least a month is likely for such an injury. The team noted that this lat injury is unrelated to the previous shoulder strain.
The A’s rotation already took a massive hit in June with the loss of breakout star Frankie Montas, who appeared to be headed for an All-Star berth before being slapped with a PED suspension that effectively ended his season. The remaining group is holding its own, led by the red-hot Mike Fiers, but the depth behind them is thin. The thought of adding an elite rookie to the mix in July had been an enticing possibility as the 47-40 A’s battle for a Wild Card spot, but that dream is now on hold indefinitely.
Entering the season, Luzardo was ranked as a Top 15 prospect in the entire minor leagues by each of Baseball America, MLB Pipeline, and Baseball Prospectus. He was originally acquired from the Nationals in 2017, in the deal that sent star relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson to Washington and brought current A’s closer Blake Treinen to Oakland.
The rotation news hasn’t been all bad this week, though, as Sean Manaea threw a bullpen session on Tuesday and is scheduled for another on Friday. The left-hander is recovering from shoulder surgery last fall, and nearly went on a minor league rehab stint in late June before a sore oblique got in the way.
“He felt good and he will throw another bullpen,” said manager Bob Melvin on Wednesday. “He threw all his pitches, he will again. I think it was 30 pitches, we’ll probably replicate that, and then see where we are after that.”