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Jharel Cotton’s long trip from Virgin Islands to join A’s starting rotation plus a double dose of Alcantara

Jharel Cotton, who came to the A's in the Josh Reddick-Rich Hill trade with the Dodgers, makes his MLB debut Wednesday.

Jharel Cotton, who came to the A’s in the Josh Reddick-Rich Hill trade with the Dodgers, makes his MLB debut Wednesday.

When Jharel Cotton was 7 and hanging around his house in the Virgin Islands watching TV, he said his stepdad told him he needed to get outside

He did as told, ran into a local baseball game, liked what he saw and said he wanted to play, too. On Wednesday, 17 years later, he makes his Major League debut as the starting pitcher for the A’s in the series finale against the Angels.

The 5-11, 195-pound right-hander moved to the Virginia when he was 16 in order to play a higher level of high school baseball and eventually made it to East Carolina University where the Dodgers made him a 20th-round pick in the 2012 draft.

He was making some progress toward to Dodgers rotation this year when he got word that changed everything.

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Kendall Graveman moves in as ace of A’s rotation

Kendall Graveman served up a 5-1 win over the Indians Wednesday.

Kendall Graveman served up a 5-1 win over the Indians Wednesday.

How does a pitcher who began the season with a 1-6 record and 5.48 ERA morph into becoming the ace of his team’s rotation?

The answer, if you are Kendall Graveman, is to rediscover the best qualities of his sinker while pitching for an A’s team that lost one starter, Rich Hill, to a trade while seeing another ace, Sonny Gray, on and off the disabled list in the midst of his worst big league season.

Graveman stretched his record to 10-8 Wednesday with his ninth win in his last 11 decisions. He threw a shutout his last time out against the White Sox and had Cleveland, the team with the American League’s best record, blanked for 6.2 innings of a 5-1 Oakland win.

He is, in fact, the A’s ace.

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Sonny Gray starts strengthening exercises; no throwing yet

Sonny Gray remains optimistic he'll pitch for A's again this year, but for now, he's just starting strengthening exercises on his right forearm.

Sonny Gray remains optimistic he’ll pitch for A’s again this year, but for now, he’s just starting strengthening exercises on his right forearm.

Starter Sonny Gray remains hopeful that he will be back on the mound for the A’s as a starter in September, but progress is coming along more slowly than he would like.

There is still inflammation in his right forearm, and as long as that’s the case he won’t be able to throw a baseball even to play catch on the side.

Gray did, however, stars a series of shoulder-strengthening exercises on Friday while waiting for the inflammation to subside.

“I don’t know how long it’s going to be,” Gray said. “But I’m still hoping I’ll be back out there again this year. That’s the plan.”

Manager Bob Melvin said replacing Gray isn’t done easily.

“He’s shown that he’s one of the elite pitchers in the league,” Melvin said. “He’s had a little bit of a tough time this season, but I don’t think that deters from how we feel about him and about how the rest of the league looks at him.”

Gray’s absence due to injury has led the A’s to scramble for starting pitching. When the club turned to Sean Manaea to start Friday’s series-opener against Seattle it brought an end a string of eight consecutive games with different starting pitchers – Jesse Hahn, Dillon Overton, Gray, Manaea, Kendall Graveman, Zach Neal, Ross Detwiler and Andrew Triggs.

That’s two thirds of the 12 different starters the A’s have used this year – Rich Hill, Daniel Mengden, Eric Surkamp and Chris Bassitt being the others.

And there may be more when August turns into September. Hahn is due off the disabled list in a week or so, but manager Bob Melvin named three minor leaguers Friday who were candidates to get a start in Seattle before the year is over – Mengden, Jharel Cotton and Raul Alcantara.

Cotton came within one out of a perfect game his last time out in just his second start since joining the organization as part of the deal that sent Hill and Josh Reddick to the Dodgers on Aug. 1. And Alcantara, who started the season at Double-A Midland (5-6, 4.80) has blossomed since joining Triple-A Nashville (3-0, 0.70 in four starts).

“We don’t want to see that again,” Melvin said of the A’s setting an Oakland record by having used different starters in eight straight games. “We’re probably status quo with the rotation the next time around. Then we’ll see when Jesse comes back. We still have Mengden, Cotton, Alcantara; they may be a little big later in coming.”

 

–Sean Doolittle threw a 20-pitch bullpen to hitters Tyler Ladendorf and Max Muncy Friday afternoon and could so be pitching in a game after having been on the disabled list since June with a left shoulder strain.

Doolittle threw all his pitches and came out of it fine, Melvin said.

The plan for the left-handed reliever is to either throw another set again hitters or have him head out on an injury rehabilitation assignment. That will depend on how he feels when he reports to the Coliseum Saturday.

Melvin said the A’s have been trying to be cautious with Doolittle, who began the year as the closer but who has been on the disabled list since June 25 and who has missed about seven weeks’ worth of games.

“We’ve been pretty conservation with him for obvious reasons,” Melvin said of the staff ace. “He’s a big part of what we do here. We want to make sure he comes back strong. So we’re not pushing the envelope too quickly.

“Knock wood. Everything looked really good today. The ball came out of his hand nicely and he was able to throw all of his pitches.”

 

NOTES

–Hahn (right shoulder strain) is down to throw a bullpen session Saturday. If all goes well, he’ll head out after that for an injury rehabilitation assignment and could be back with the A’s by next weekend or shortly thereafter.

–Second baseman Jed Lowrie, on the disabled list with a bunion on his left foot that has him walking gingerly will be seeing yet another specialist about what to do next. He’s talked with the A’s doctors and one outside specialist so far and has gotten conflicting information on what to do next. He’d like to avoid season-ending surgery.

–The Mariners originally planned on starting lefty Ariel Miranda Friday, but he pitched in relief in a 15-inning game Tuesday, so the club called up right-hander Joe Wieland to make his third big league start. The first two were with the Dodgers, both last season.

–Lefty reliever Patrick Schuster, put on waivers earlier in the week by Oakland, was claimed Friday by the Phillies.

 

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Revolving rotation isn’t something specific to the A’s

Replacing Sonny Gray in the A's rotation is a big deal, but teams all over MLB are having to do similar fixes.

Replacing Sonny Gray in the A’s rotation is a big deal, but teams all over MLB are having to do similar fixes.

There are times covering a baseball beat – or, presumably, any beat – when you run the risk of getting so close to the story that it’s hard to see the story.

There’s a saying about forests and trees that applies.

I mention this now because it seems that I’ve spent the entire season writing about A’s players being called up, being sent down and going on the disabled list. Especially going on the disabled list.

And there are some numbers to suggest that my assumption that the A’s are setting records for all this roster rumbling isn’t far off. The A’s 25 uses of the disabled list are the most since the club moved to Oakland in 1968.

There are some numbers, however, that suggest it’s time for me to chill about all this.

The A’s have had nine starting pitchers go on the disabled list this year – Henderson Alvarez, Chris Bassitt, Felix Doubront, the since-traded Rich Hill (twice), Sean Manaea and Jarrod Parker in addition to Sonny Gray, who landed on the DL for the second time Sunday morning.

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A’s scrambling in rotation with Sonny Gray sidelined

Sonny Gray landed on the disabled list Sunday with a forearm strain, leaving the A's scrambling for starting pitching.

Sonny Gray landed on the disabled list Sunday with a forearm strain, leaving the A’s scrambling for starting pitching.

The A’s have lost another starting pitcher to the disabled list, ace Sonny Gray landing there Sunday morning with the A’s calling up right-handed pitcher Chris Smith from Triple-A Nashville.

Gray came out of Saturday’s 4-0 loss to the Cubs after five innings in which he’d allowed two runs on five hits with what was diagnosed as a strained right forearm. It’s the second time on the disabled list this year for the right-hander, who had a flexor injury earlier in what has been his worst season – 5-11 with a Major League-worst 5.74 ERA.

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Hill-Reddick trade gets decent support in Twitter poll

A's executive VP Billy Beane (above) and GM David Forst got considerable support in an online poll for the trades of Josh Reddick and (in particular) Rich Hill.

A’s executive VP Billy Beane (above) and GM David Forst got considerable support in an online poll for the trades of Josh Reddick and (in particular) Rich Hill.

The A’s in general and executive vice president Billy Beane in particular always will catch flak at any trade deadline move that sees Major League talent leaving and minor league talent coming in.

And so it was Monday and Tuesday in the wake of the decision by Beane and general manager David Forst to trade away right fielder Josh Reddick and starting pitcher Rich Hill for three minor league pitchers from the Dodgers organization that most A’s fans had never heard of – Jharel Cotton, Frankie Montas and Grant Holmes. All three are right-handed and all three could wind up in the A’s rotation if the Beane/Forst calculations are correct.

When (if) those calculations are proved out, all will be forgiven, presumably. In the immediate aftermath of the deal, however, there were any number of suggestions on Twitter that Beane and Forst are the ones who should be traded, and more than a few willing to package managing owner Lew Wolff with them.

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Bob Melvin, A’s deal with baseball after Reddick/Hill trade

Bob Melvin was sad to see Josh Reddick and Rich Hill be traded, but he said the A's played themselves into this kind of move.

Bob Melvin was sad to see Josh Reddick and Rich Hill be traded, but he said the A’s played themselves into this kind of move.

Josh Reddick was the A’s best overall player this season, which made it tough for manager Bob Melvin to see the club trade him Monday to Los Angeles.

Rich Hill was the A’s best starting pitcher, and Melvin saw him go, too, packaged with Reddick for minor league pitchers Jharel Cotton, Frankie Montas and Grant Holmes.

Suffice it to say Monday wasn’t a great day for Melvin who was able to talk to Reddick but could only exchange texts with Hill as the two men scrambled to join the Dodgers for a flight to Colorado.

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Could Rich Hill get contract extension in lieu of a trade?

Rich Hill, who may start for the A's Friday if he's not traded, could wind up with a contract extension from Oakland.

Rich Hill, who may start for the A’s Friday if he’s not traded, could wind up with a contract extension from Oakland.

The A’s are working on a contract extension with left-handed pitcher Rich Hill even as the club is fielding offers about trading their most successful starting pitcher.

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports tweeted of the A’s interest in an extension with Hill, which followed up a Thursday comment from Oakland general manager David Forst that suggested keeping the 36-year-old long term was well within the realm of possibility.

The Major League trade deadline is Monday at 1 p.m. PT, and Hill is very much a hot commodity. He was highly coveted by at least half a dozen contenders already, and then on Sunday, the Dodgers’ Bud Norris came out of a start for Los Angeles with back problems.

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Rich Hill scratched from Sunday start because of blister; moderate chance exists A’s could trade him by Monday

 Rich Hill won't start Sunday because of his blister, and there is still a chance he could be traded by Monday.

Rich Hill won’t start Sunday because of his blister, and there is still a chance he could be traded by Monday.

The A’s will hold off on having Rich Hill start for them Sunday, one day ahead of the trade deadline, but Hill’s blistered left middle finger won’t keep the club from trading him if they get the right deal.

Oakland general manager David Forst said on a conference call that while no deal was close, Hill’s health status wouldn’t be a barrier to trading him if the club likes what it is being offered in return.

And manager Bob Melvin said the club might have a yes-or-no decision on Hill going to the disabled list as soon as Saturday.

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Dillon Overton on Saturday; A’s hope it’s Rich Hill Sunday

 

Dillon Overton will return to the A's Saturday to start in Cleveland.

Dillon Overton will return to the A’s Saturday to start in Cleveland.

The A’s pitching rotation for the weekend series in Cleveland is getting some clarity, but only some.

Dillon Overton, the left-handed rookie who has helped pitch the A’s to two wins in three starts, will be recalled from Triple-A Nashville to start Saturday against the Indians. And Rich Hill remains probable for Sunday’s series finale, but if his blister problems have yet to be resolved, then Sonny Gray would get Sunday.

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