Suddenly, the A’s are in medical crisis mode. Sean Doolittle is down with a ribcage muscle pull, and there’s no telling when he’ll be back. John Jaso, suffering concussion symptoms from a hard foul tip he incurred two weeks ago, is in the same boat. When a guy is suffering from headaches and dizziness that long after the fact, there is legitimate cause for concern that he may not be able to get back behind the plate for a good long while, if at all.
Oakland’s middle infield is being held together with baling wire with Jed Lowrie and Nick Punto out. Lowrie, on the DL with a fractured index finger on his throwing hand, probably has at least another week before he can even think about returning. Punto hasn’t yet resumed baseball activity.
Josh Donaldson had an MRI on his left knee Sunday, and the A’s took a deep sigh of relief that there was no structural damage found. But he was already playing hobbled (nagging hip), as is Stephen Vogt (foot), Coco Crisp (neck) Josh Reddick (braced knee), Derek Norris (back stiffness) and Sam Fuld (jammed left knee trying to make a spectacular catch Sunday). Craig Gentry is back from a fractured hand, but that doesn’t tip the balance of health back nearly enough.
Things are grim in the trainers’ room, and all of these injuries are threatening to ruin the A’s season. But they still do have one thing going for them — their starting pitchers are all still healthy. And those guys are really going to have to stem the tide now until some of these players can get back. Sonny Gray and Jon Lester appear up to the task, but Scott Kazmir’s performance Sunday was cause for worry. He’s given up three or more runs in four of his last five starts, and he’d had nothing close to that kind of string before August.
Is the lefthander wearing down as he approaches 160 innings? With his three ghastly innings Sunday, he matched his innings total for all of last year with Cleveland — 158 — and now he’s in territory he hasn’t seen since 2007 when he logged a career-high 206 2/3 innings. He maintained it was a control and aggression issue in his latest start, but he didn’t appear to have a whole lot of zip on his fastball, either.
Jeff Samardzija got lit up in his last start as well, and the A’s desperately need him to step to the fore Monday night in Houston. Ditto the mostly disappointing Jason Hammel on Tuesday. Wednesday? It’s expected that Drew Pomeranz will be called up to start that one, and he can atone for his stupid fist punch that put him out with a broken hand for two months when he had been generally pitching better than he ever had in his career.
A strong showing from that trio will set up the rotation again for Anaheim starting Thursday with Gray, Lester, Kazmir and Samardzija, the best possible alignment. So in a sense, the Houston series is as crucial as the rematch with L.A. The A’s don’t want to go into L.A. down three or four games in the standings. If you haven’t noticed, Seattle is making a hard charge from the rear, and they’re now within five games of Oakland. That’s reachable considering they face the A’s six more times, and the Mariners are healthy and playing great ball right now.
Offensively, Brandon Moss needs to find himself, well, immediately. He went 0-for-4 Sunday and is now in an 0-for-18 rut. He is 7 for his last 51 (.137) and hasn’t homered in 24 games. He’s struck out 26 times in his last 57 at-bats. It pains to say it, but if this continues much longer, the A’s actually are going to have to consider bringing back Daric Barton. Moss is killing them right now.
As for the bullpen, one would hope the choice of a closer doesn’t upset the setup order, because that’s where the A’s real strength is. Doolittle has been terrific closing games, but Ryan Cook and Luke Gregerson are much better suited to setup than the ninth inning. Dan Otero is a groundball pitcher and throws strikes. Even though he doesn’t have swing-and-miss stuff, he might be best suited to the role because you need two or three hits to score against him, and he rarely surrenders the long ball. Eric Flaherty might be a candidate when the A’s have to face some particularly tough lefties, and who knows? Maybe Fernando Abad is due for a promotion the way he’s pitched with runners on.
At this point, it’s a case of survival for the A’s until more of their players get back. Geovany Soto should help with the catching duties, but he’s no Jaso as a hitter. We’ll see if the A’s can pull off their waiver claim of shortstop Yunel Escobar, a player the club has always liked. Defensively, he would provide some stability up the middle, and he’s probably going to deliver more offense than Andy Parrino.
Doolittle? It’s going to be tough riding that one out with the necessary patience. Unfortunately, much like an oblique, you can’t rush an intercostal injury. They have to get completely well, or there’s the risk of a reinjury, and if that happens to Doolittle, he’d almost certainly be done for the year.
So grit your teeth and hope the A’s can pull through this stretch. Without question, even after taking two of three from the Angels, they are about to face their biggest test of the year so far.