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Injuries will test A’s in stretch run

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OAKLAND – Depth has been a major key to the A’s success this year, and it’s going to play a huge factor over the final five weeks of the regular season.

Injuries are eating away at the A’s roster at an inopportune time, to the point where Sunday’s 9-4 defeat to the Los Angeles Angels wasn’t even the worst news of the day.

Before they took the field, the A’s absorbed the news that closer Sean Doolittle was headed to the 15-day disabled list with a strained right intercostal (side) muscle. He’s expected to miss a minimum of two weeks.

[RELATED: A’s place Doolittle on disabled list; Otero recalled]

Catcher John Jaso will join the seven-day concussion D.L. on Monday, but it’s unknown how much time he will miss. Josh Donaldson’s MRI on Sunday showed no structural damage in his left knee, but although there’s no plan to put the All-Star third baseman on the D.L., it’s unclear if he’ll return to the lineup immediately.

The A’s already were without starting shortstop Jed Lowrie and middle infielder Nick Punto, and there’s no immediate timetable for their return either. And keeping with the theme of the day, outfielder Sam Fuld wore an ice pack on his left knee after the game. He hyper-extended the knee when he landed awkwardly trying to catch Erick Aybar’s first-inning double off the wall Sunday. Fuld will be re-evaluated Monday.

Injuries are something every team contends with over the course of the season, and how the A’s compensate for the current crop of health setbacks will play heavily into whether they can outlast the Angels and Seattle Mariners in the American League West.

Oakland trails the Angels by one game with 33 left to play, while the Mariners are six back.

“I think we’ll respond well,” starting pitcher Scott Kazmir said. “Those are key guys that are out right now. We’ve got a couple other guys that are banged up too, so we know that we need to step our game up a little bit more. I think we’ll do that.”

Kazmir (14-6) lamented his lack of command after he got shelled for a season high-tying seven runs and 10 hits in just three-plus innings. The A’s were behind 8-0 by the fourth, and with the way Angels right-hander Jered Weaver was throwing, there was no climbing back into this one. “I hit maybe one spot the entire game,” Kazmir said. “There were some situations where I felt like I’d be able to take control a little bit, and I’d throw two strikes, get ahead of a guy, and then just throw a ball right down the middle.

[RECAP: Angels chase Kazmir early as A’s lose 9-4]

“I felt like I just wasn’t aggressive enough. I was kind of trying to trick people out there, throwing curveballs, sliders and changeups instead of just really focusing on my fastball and establishing that.”

Sweeping the Angels would have been quite a story, but taking two of three and gaining one game in the standings for the weekend is acceptable for Oakland. The A’s travel to Houston for three games starting Monday – they dropped two of three at Minute Maid Park last month – and then they head to Anaheim for a four-game rematch with the Angels that starts Thursday.

Donaldson’s status is critical, but the A’s also have to hold down the fort at the back of the bullpen with Doolittle out. A’s manager Bob Melvin said he has a ‘Plan B’ formulated but wanted to talk with the relievers involved Monday before announcing it. Luke Gregerson and Dan Otero have closed games this season, and Ryan Cook has closing experience from seasons past.

[RELATED: Recent health issues confronting multiple A’s]

Doolittle, who injured his side on his final two pitches of Saturday night’s game, said there’s no firm return date that he and the training staff are eyeing. Intercostal strains typically take anywhere from two to several weeks to heal.

“Timetables can be frustrating,” the All-Star closer said. “As soon as you miss one, that can be really frustrating mentally. We’re gonna take it day to day. It’s probably something we have a better handle on once we start moving around and doing some stuff later on in the week.”

Rob Manfred on robot umps: “In general, I would be a keep-the-human-element-in-the-game guy.”

KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 5:  Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred talks with media prior to a game between the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on April 5, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
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Craig covered the bulk of Rob Manfred’s quotes from earlier. The commissioner was asked about robot umpires and he’s not a fan. Via Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:

Manfred was wrong to blame the player’s union’s “lack of cooperation” on proposed rule changes, but he’s right about robot umps and the strike zone. The obvious point is that robot umps cannot yet call balls and strikes with greater accuracy than umpires. Those strike zone Twitter accounts, such as this, are sometimes hilariously wrong. Even the strike zone graphics used on television are incorrect and unfortunate percentage of the time.

The first issue to consider about robot umps is taking jobs away from people. There are 99 umps and more in the minors. If robot umpiring was adopted in collegiate baseball, as well as the independent leagues, that’s even more umpires out of work. Is it worth it for an extra one or two percent improvement in accuracy?

Personally, the fallibility of the umpires adds more intrigue to baseball games. There’s strategy involved, as each umpire has tendencies which teams can strategize against. For instance, an umpire with a more generous-than-average strike zone on the outer portion of the plate might entice a pitcher to pepper that area with more sliders than he would otherwise throw. Hitters, knowing an umpire with a smaller strike zone is behind the dish, may take more pitches in an attempt to draw a walk. Or, knowing that information, a hitter may swing for the fences on a 3-0 pitch knowing the pitcher has to throw in a very specific area to guarantee a strike call or else give up a walk.

The umpires make their mistakes in random fashion, so it adds a chaotic, unpredictable element to the game as well. It feels bad when one of those calls goes against your team, but fans often forget the myriad calls that previously went in their teams’ favor. The mistakes will mostly even out in the end.

I haven’t had the opportunity to say this often, but Rob Manfred is right in this instance.

Report: MLB approves new rule allowing a dugout signal for an intentional walk

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 29:  MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred laughs during a ceremony naming the 2016 winners of the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award and the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award before Game Four of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 29, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images
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ESPN’s Howard Bryant is reporting that Major League Baseball has approved a rule allowing for a dugout signal for an intentional walk. In other words, baseball is allowing automatic intentional walks. Bryant adds that this rule will be effective for the 2017 season.

MLB has been trying, particularly this month, to improve the pace of play. Getting rid of the formality of throwing four pitches wide of the strike zone will save a minute or two for each intentional walk. There were 932 of them across 2,428 games last season, an average of one intentional walk every 2.6 games. It’s not the biggest improvement, but it’s something at least.

Earlier, Commissioner Rob Manfred was upset with the players’ union’s “lack of cooperation.” Perhaps his public criticism was the catalyst for getting this rule passed.

Unfortunately, getting rid of the intentional walk formality will eradicate the chance of seeing any more moments like this: