Oakland Athletics: A’s rotation still a question mark with Paul Blackburn’s return

OAKLAND — Through 62 games this season, the Oakland Athletics have had nine different starting pitchers. And while they’re getting right hander Paul Blackburn back on the mound tonight after he was activated Thursday from the 60-day disabled list, there’s still some uncertainty around the A’s rotation.

“Well, we’re getting a guy back and we’re losing a couple more, it seems like,” said manager Bob Melvin. “So, at some point in time, you would like this trend to go in the other direction.”

The 24-year-old Blackburn went on the DL in spring training with a forearm strain and missed the first two months of the season. As a rookie last year, he made 10 starts and had a 3.22 ERA with 22 strikeouts and 16 walks; he also gave up five homers and had a 4.39 FIP.

Melvin said that Blackburn won’t have his full complement tonight and probably won’t be at 100 pitches, but he’s ready to pitch.

“If we didn’t feel like he was ready to take the mound and pitch competitively here at the big-league level, we wouldn’t do it,” Melvin said.

The A’s also appear to be close to bringing up Andrew Triggs, who started nine games for Oakland this season before heading to the DL with nerve irritation in his right arm. He has and will continue to throw bullpen sessions. At some point, the A’s plan to get him out on a rehab assignment, they’re just not sure what day that is yet.

Melvin, for one, is ready for these injuries to stop.

“It started with us when we were back in spring training … and it seems like it hasn’t gone away as the season has gone along,” Melvin said. “But, hopefully at some point in time, we start getting more of these guys back, whether it’s Triggs, whether it’s (Brett) Anderson, certainly Blackburn today.”

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Marcus Semien is batting sixth today, which Melvin said is just a way of mixing things up a bit.

“Just giving him a little change of scenery here,” Melvin said. “There’s no doubt he’ll be back up towards the top of the lineup and probably even leading off against (Royals’ LHP Danny) Duffy on Saturday.”

This season, Semien is batting .252 with a .305 on-base percentage and a .362 slugging percentage. He has 64 hits, five home runs and 24 RBI.

The leadoff spot tonight is occupied by center fielder Dustin Fowler. Melvin said the organization always saw the 23-year-old rookie occupying that spot — just not this soon. In his last seven games, he’s hitting .348/.375/.609.

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With Blackburn’s call-up, the A’s optioned catcher Bruce Maxwell. In 2018, he’s hitting .182/.207/.309 with one homer.

“It’s tough to be sent down to the minor leagues, and, obviously, he’s going to have to work his way back here,” Melvin said. “But I think with consistent at-bats, he certainly will. It’s finding a niche and a work ethic that would suggest you can be successful without regular at-bats. But I think if we get him some consistent at-bats, he’ll be better for it once he gets back.”

Maxwell being optioned means Josh Phegley, who was called up earlier this week when Oakland right-hander Daniel Gossett when on the DL, will be Jonathan Lucroy’s backup.

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Other notes:

—Melvin liked that the A’s drafted Austin Piscotty, the younger brother of A’s outfielder Stephen Piscotty. Melvin said the younger Piscotty seems like a “gritty” player, adding, that when you have the opportunity to draft the sibling of someone on your team, “sounds like a good idea to me.”

—The A’s signed journeyman pitcher Edwin Jackson to a minor-league contract, which Melvin called a “good sign” because of how it adds someone with big-league experience to the team’s potential depth chart.

—Reliever Santiago Casilla will likely be activated this weekend, perhaps even as early as tomorrow.

—Of Matt Joyce, who was placed on the 10-day DL with a lower back strain, Melvin said, “Pretty much status quo yesterday, the way it was feeling, saw him a little bit today. It allows us not to have to rush him back at this point, to give him several days off. You know, hopefully when he gets back swinging, he’s feeling a little bit better. … Definitely the right thing to put him back on the DL and get him back 100 percent.”

—Left-hander Brett Anderson is playing catch but isn’t back on the mound yet.

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