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Oakland A’s opt for bullpen game on Thursday

Josh Lucas will make the “start,” his first since 2013 in the lower minors.

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Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland A’s starting rotation is in a state of flux right now, having lost two arms on back-to-back days last weekend. Daniel Gossett came up to start in one of those open slots on Wednesday against the Mariners, but on Thursday afternoon the A’s will go with a bullpen game led by reliever Josh Lucas, reports insider Jane Lee.

First, some background: While the A’s were in Toronto, both Andrew Triggs and Brett Anderson left their starts early due to injury and eventually went on the disabled list. That left the A’s with only three pitchers in their rotation, between Sean Manaea, Daniel Mengden, and Trevor Cahill. Gossett makes four, but there will not be a fifth for now.

Oakland didn’t have to do this if they didn’t want to, which means it was a conscious choice. Opening Day starter Kendall Graveman was optioned back to Triple-A Nashville on May 15 and must stay on that assignment for at least 10 days before returning, but that waiting period can be waived if he’s replacing someone who went on the DL. Khris Davis did just that on Wednesday, when Graveman happened to be on normal four days’ rest, so he could have come up then and Gossett could have gone on Thursday.

Instead, they’re opting for a bullpen day. Lucas has pitched for the A’s twice this year, and both times he went at least three innings. He appeared once in a mop-up capacity in late-April, and his last outing came in emergency relief of Anderson on Friday. He was effective both times, and downright excellent in the second instance.

Lucas, 4/20: 3 ip, 0 runs, 0 Ks, 1 BB, 2 hits, 25 pitches
Lucas, 5/18: 3⅔ ip, 1 run, 7 Ks, 1 BB, 2 hits, 50 pitches

He throws a lot of strikes, which will hopefully help him work efficiently and maximize the number of innings he can eat. In her report, Lee notes that Lucas probably won’t be asked to go more than the 50 pitches he threw last time.

Beyond him, and with home run specialist Wilmer Font DFA’d on Wednesday, the A’s have eight other arms in their bullpen. Three of them pitched last night: Ryan Dull faced a few batters and got drilled in the glove hand by a liner; Danny Coulombe faced one batter; and Santiago Casilla threw one roller coaster inning that somehow ended up scoreless. Here’s a full look at everyone’s rest status, in terms of how many pitches they threw in the last several days.

Name 5/23 5/22 5/21 5/20 5/19 5/18 5/17
Lucas - - - - - 50 -
Treinen - 24 - - 20 21 -
Trivino - 18 - - 16 - 19
Petit - 16 - - - 13 29
Coulombe 3 - - - - 20 -
Dull 16 - - - - - 25
Pagan - - - - 29 - -
Casilla 24 - - - - - 41
Hatcher - - - 22 - 17 -

The good news is that the bullpen is about as rested as you could hope for entering this situation. There was an off-day Monday and then Cahill and Gossett each lasted seven innings in their latest starts, so at least the relievers are as fresh as possible. You’d have to figure that just about everyone is available, except maybe Dull and Casilla (but even then, who knows). Better yet, everyone on that list is capable of throwing multiple innings effectively, or in Hatcher’s case he can at least retain his same level of ineffectiveness for long stretches.

The concept of the bullpen game is a hot topic in baseball right now. The Rays have been experimenting with their own version, in which a short reliever (Sergio Romo) pitches the 1st inning as the “opener,” followed by either a normal starter (Saturday) or a couple of swingmen (Sunday). Here’s some more in-depth reading on what Tampa Bay is thinking:

That’s a bit different than what Oakland is doing here, since Romo faced only the first few batters of the game and did so for the purpose of optimizing early matchups. Lucas is expected to go multiple frames, with the emphasis being on filling nine innings without needing to call up Graveman yet again as he yo-yos back and forth to Triple-A. The A’s aren’t trying to get next-level clever here, but merely skip their starter at a convenient moment.

A bit of speculation: If one of Triggs or Anderson ends up returning in time for next week, then perhaps they could avoid disturbing Graveman at all. Considering that he originally went down to the minors to sort out his early-season slump, there could be value in letting him stay down there for an extended period without constantly shuttling him back and forth to make spot starts in Oakland. On the other hand, Gossett had already turned around his own fortunes in Nashville, making him more primed for his return this week.

Good luck to Lucas and the A’s, and let’s see how this goes! They already won two unscheduled bullpen games in Toronto, so we’ve seen this work before.