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.
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.
“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.
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.”