Seated in the visitor’s dugout at AT&T Park, Oakland A’s manager Bob Melvin got right to the point when asked about his work-in-progress starting staff.
“The rotation has basically come down to a process of elimination,” Melvin said.
He might as well have been talking about the club that calls Third and King home, too.
On the eve of the season, all it takes to comprehend the dire state of Bay Area rotations is to look at the Opening Day starters for the A’s and San Francisco Giants, respectively:
Kendall Graveman and Ty Blach.
It’s as underwhelming of an Opening Day tandem as there could be.
Graveman’s second-consecutive Opening Day start is by design. Blach’s assignment is the product of bad luck — namely Madison Bumgarner fracturing his lefty pinkie on the final day of the Cactus League season, leaving no time to shuffle Johnny Cueto into the Thursday’s opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
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Heading into the spring, neither club boasted a robust rotation. And neither club added so much as a single major-league free agent to their staff.
Then, the Giants lost Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija (pectoral strain), and the A’s had to do without Jharel Cotton (sprained UCL) and Paul Blackburn (forearm tightness).
“You have to overcome it. You have no choice,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “This unfortunately happened. These things do happen. What’s important is how we respond. We’ve lost two of our starters — our [No.] 1 and 3. Sure, those are tough losses, but you’ve got to deal with this in baseball.”
The A’s were especially ill-prepared for the health problems, scrambling to pluck Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson — a pair of erstwhile green-and-gold rising stars — from the discount bin.
“That’s probably the one area that we were maybe not as apt to handle,” Melvin said, adding that he wanted to put his starters in bubble wrap for the Bay Bridge Series.
Cahill was on the mound back in June 2011 when Melvin, then the interim manager, joined the team.
“It’s kind of come full circle for him coming back,” Melvin said.
Signed to a one-year deal on March 19, Cahill who spun three scoreless innings on Tuesday against the Giants, won’t be ready for the start of the season. A team official predicted that Cahill could join the rotation by mid-April in a best-case scenario but wouldn’t hazard a guess on Anderson.
In the meantime, the A’s will roll with a quintet of Graveman, Sean Manaea, Daniel Mengden, Andrew Triggs and Daniel Gossett. By Melvin’s admission, Triggs had been ticketed to serve as the longman out of the pen. Gossett was supposed to be an insurance policy in Triple-A.
The most significant addition to either understrength Bay Area rotation was a catcher, Jonathan Lucroy.
“If you can’t go out and spend on starting pitching, we can get an experienced veteran guy behind the plate,” Melvin reasoned. “That should make out guys better. And everybody who’s thrown to him so far has raved about him.”
Melvin raved about the two-time All-Star’s diligence.
“Absolutely, he is as prepared as anybody I’ve been around,” Melvin said.
Bochy thinks his team is better positioned to absorb the absence of Bumgarner until early June — not to mention Samardzija for about a month.
Last April, Bumgarner’s dirt-bike wreck blew a hole in the side of the sinking ship that was the Giants’ 2017 season.
“Last year, we didn’t deal with it as well,” Bochy said before striking an optimistic tone.
“I think we’re much more equipped to deal with it better at this point than we were last year because of the depth in the rotation.”
That depth is still being sorted out. The Giants will break spring with four starters — Blach, Johnny Cueto, Chris Stratton and Derek Holland — not summoning a fifth until the schedule demands it on April 10.
Bochy believes the new-look lineup — featuring Andrew McCutchen, Evan Longoria and Austin Jackson — will offset the inevitable struggles of the starting crew.
“Our offense is better this year and will be better,” Bochy said. “So, it will make it a little bit easier to overcome.”
Bochy had better hope he’s right because at this point that’s all he and his East Bay counterpart, Melvin, can do — hope. The good news for Bochy and Melvin is that weird things happen once the baseball begins.
Free-agent lottery tickets like Trevor Cahill and Derek Holland flourish. The young no-names grow up faster than expected. Just ask Melvin.
“We’re very young but we were also young in ‘12 when we won [the division] and we had all rookie starters that year.”