OAKLAND — Hamate bone surgery has become common in Major League Baseball over the past 30 years — so common that it’s near-ubiquitous — since a fortuitous broken hamate suffered by Jose Canseco allowed Oakland Athletics executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane got his call-up from the A’s as a player in 1989.
“Canseco was the first time we ever heard of it, and that was the year I got to come up because of that,” Beane said during the A’s workout day at the Oakland Coliseum on Saturday. “Thank goodness for the hamate bone. Nobody knew what a hamate bone was. Nobody’d heard about it, and then there was a string of them.”
A’s first baseman Matt Olson had surgery to excise his fractured hamate bone in his right hand — suffered in the fifth inning of Oakland’s second game against the Seattle Mariners in Japan — on Friday. He returned to the A’s clubhouse on Sunday, ahead of the first Bay Bridge Series game against the San Francisco Giants, as Jurickson Profar was set to make his first start in what’s expected to be a left-right platoon there until Olson returns.
“It sucks,” Olson said. “The timing of it is good and bad. Good because you kind of get five or six days here, to get ahead, but sucks because it is the beginning of the year, and you work all offseason to get to this point.”
Last season, the A’s win 97 games, but started 14 different pitchers due to injury, and had to spend time without Khris Davis and Matt Chapman due to injury. Oakland had 26 disabled list stints, the eighth-most in Major League Baseball, and third-most among playoff teams, losing 1,248 total days due to injury. None of those was Olson.
“We’re used to it before,” said manager Bob Melvin. “Then, you have the [Jesus] Luzardo situation, too, which isn’t great. I think, hopefully, we’re of the same mindset we were last year.”
Olson, a Gold Glove first baseman in his first full season in the big leagues, played all 162 games at first last season, hitting .247 with 29 home runs, 84 RBIs, 33 doubles and 85 runs scored. He had a .995 fielding percentage, and was 12th in the big leagues in defensive runs saved (14), first among first basemen.
“All these guys are very established, have good at-bats and some guys are going to get some more at-bats because of it,” Olson said of the platoon that will replace him — Profar, Canha and a sprinkling of Chad Pinder. “I don’t think it’s a bad thing. It sucks for me, but I’m glad these guys are going to get a little bit more regular playing time, guys like Chad and Mark who are in and out of the lineup.”
Given his durability, he knew as soon as he fouled off an 0-1 offering from Yusei Kikuchi that something was wrong.
“I generally have a pretty high pain tolerance, and once I got around the bases, and started, I couldn’t even grip the bat when I came back in, and I knew something was up,” he said.
The hamate bone fracture, Olson said, is unpredictable; and in fact, there has been no observable pattern analogous to overuse leading to ulnar collateral ligament tears that precipitate Tommy John surgery.
In 12 games this spring (31 at-bats), he hit .129, but that’s been typical of Olson, who hit .167 in spring training two years ago, .115 in 2016 and .170 in 2015. Before 2018, he hit .259 in spring.
“You know, you can kind of rest easy, knowing it’s an injury that isn’t really the tale of what I did this offseason,” Olson said. “If it was something I did wrong this offseason, and got hurt because of it, it would be something that would eat at me a little bit. I just want to start the process, and get back as soon as possible.”
Since he underwent the surgery on Friday in Los Angeles, performed by Dr. Stephen Shin, Olson has tried to figure out what he can and can’t do in the near term.
“I was talking to Robbie [Grossman] about it, and I’ve talked to [Mark] Canha about it, it is a familiar injury,” Olson said, citing the newly-acquired Grossman, who broke his during fall ball with the Mesa Solar Sox in 2011, and Canha, who broke his hamate bone while playing at Cal in 2009. “The thing that sucks is the time that it takes to get back, so I’ll talk to these guys more as I get this [cast] off, take their advice, what felt good and what felt bad.”
Olson flexed his right hand in its cast as he spoke. He hasn’t asked trainers what he can do and when, but will start with lower body work, without holding any sort of weight. He’ll try and stay fresh with cardio in the meantime, as typical recovery time is between four and eight weeks, including time to build up hand strength. The timetable for return depends on the individual. In the meantime, he’s already had some struggles.
“I had to go to the store today to get stuff for my apartment, and I got a ton of stuff, put it in the cart, and I got to the apartment complex and I was like, ‘Crap,’” Olson said. “I had to make five trips back and forth because I can only carry in one hand.”
— Bob Melvin said on Friday that the fifth starter spot will be decided between Chris Bassitt and Aaron Brooks. Brooks was acquired in September of last season and had just three appearances (2 2/3 innings) with the A’s in his second stint with the ballclub. This spring, he’s started two games and given up six earned runs and 10 hits in nine innings. Bassitt, 30, went 1-1 in the spring with a 5.40 ERA in 10 innings. In 11 games (seven starts) last season, he had a 3.02 ERA in 47 2/3 innings.
— Mike Fiers told The Examiner on Friday that he will be starting the home opener against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and Melvin confirmed that. Fiers threw the March 20 opener in Tokyo against the Mariners, giving up five runs (all earned) on four hits, with two walks and three strikeouts on 58 pitches in three innings.
“I felt really good, actually the best day I’ve felt, pitching,” Fiers said Friday. “Just didn’t happen to be a good game for me and us, but I felt really good, so that’s always a good sign. As of now, I feel really good, and ready to go and pitch again.”
— Left-handed starter Jesus Luzardo, the A’s top prospect, is in Arizona now rehabbing a muscle strain in his left shoulder that will keep him our four-to-six weeks. The 21-year old was projected as a member of the starting rotation.
“He feels good,” Melvin said. “You have a muscle strain like that, we’re going to be conservative with him. We’re going to shut him down for at least four weeks, and just do some strengthening stuff. He’s felt better in the last couple days, but it doesn’t affect the timetable.”
— Only two players will play all nine innings today, Melvin said, as most of the team has felt like it’s been dragging upon the return from Japan.