This story has been updated at 7:04 p.m.
Oakland Athletics pitcher Frankie Montas has been suspended for 80 games without pay for testing positive for a banned substance under Major League Baseball’s performance enhancing drug rules.
“The A’s were disappointed upon learning of this suspension,” the club said in a statement early Friday afternoon. “We fully support MLB’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program and we will welcome Frankie back after the discipline has been served.”
His suspension precludes him from playing in the postseason. It comes at a difficult time for Oakland, which is waiting on several key arms to return from injury and is only now playing some of its best baseball at four games over .500. Now, the A’s will have to negotiate the majority of the season without its best pitcher.
Montas was suspended for using Ostarine, a selective androgen receptor modulator used in bodybuilding to increase strength and mass in lean muscles. It is capable of stimulating androgen receptors, steroid hormone receptors and mimicking testosterone.
“It’s disappointing on a number of levels,” general manager David Forst said. “Obviously personally disappointed for Frankie. Disappointed for his teammates, and for this team, who have worked very hard the first half of this season, played very well of late, and I know have high expectations of themselves going forward.”
Forst met with Montas on Friday morning, and the right-hander was apologetic for leaving Oakland in a lurch.
“He was very disappointed in himself,” Forst said. “He feels like he let his teammates and the organization down, and I appreciated that sentiment. But at that point there wasn’t much we could do. He just wanted to express his remorse. After he talked to me, he met with Bob in private and talked to him, and then as you know he met with his teammates as well.”
Forst explained that players receive ample communication and education about avoiding banned substances, and that they’re instructed to check with the team training staff before ingesting anything.
Montas said he was “deeply saddened” to confirm the positive test, via a statement. He went on to say that he “unfortunately and unknowingly ingested a contaminated supplement” that he purchased over-the-courter at a nutrition store in the United States. He said he never intended to take any prohibited substance, but will accept full responsibility for his actions.
The news comes one day after one of the A’s most dramatic wins of the year, a game in which Montas pitched eight innings and struck out nine, and a game won by Matt Chapman with a walk-off homer in the ninth. It was Oakland’s fourth win in a row, moving them 3 1/2 games behind the Rays for the first Wild Card spot.
Montas, who has been Oakland’s best starter this season following the addition of a splitter, has helped the club hover at .500 as the A’s await the return of Sean Manaea, and the rehab of Jharel Cotton, A.J. Puk and Jesus Luzardo. He leads the club in ERA (2.70 — fifth among qualified pitchers in the American League), innings (90) and strikeouts (97), a performance which seemed likely to land Montas on his first career All-Star team next month. Instead, he will be out of action until the final week of the season, as the suspension is effective immediately, meaning that Oakland (40-36) will have to find someone to step up in his stead.
“If there’s something this group has shown over the last year and a half, is that ‘next man up’ is their motto,” said Forst. “Whether it’s because of performance, whether it’s because of injuries, or something like this, every guy, not just the 25 here, every guy in the organization has shown the ability to step up. It led to a lot of great things last year, and I think they’re gonna feel that same responsibility this time around.”
Last season, the A’s saw a glut of pitchers go down with injury, but still managed to win 97 games and secure the second Wild Card berth.
“As a team we went through some adversity last year,” said Melvin. “This is a little bit different as far as that goes, but I don’t think it takes away from the fact that we still expect to go out there and win, and somebody else will get an opportunity. Unfortunately it was a guy that everybody is pretty close to here, and a guy that’s performed really well. So it’s just something we’re gonna have to deal with.”
Manaea — last year’s ace who went down with shoulder Tendonitis near the end of the regular season — is not expected to return until after the All-Star Break. Luzardo (shoulder) and Puk (Tommy John) returned to the mound for the first time just over a week ago, with Luzardo working three scoreless innings on 33 pitches, retiring nine of his 11 batters. Puk threw an easy 99 mph in his first appearance (in the same game as Luzardo for the Stockton Ports), and flashed a devastating slider. Their arrival in the big leagues may still be a month or more away.
Alex Hall contributed to this report from Oakland.