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Wild Card Thoughts: Trivino, Other Options

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Oakland Athletics v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
“Fore!”
Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

In the next few days the A’s will have to announce a “starting pitcher” and plan for at least 9 innings of pitching. If you’re a fan your recommendations probably change daily as you watch first Lou Trivino, then Edwin Jackson, then Mike Fiers, all stumble significantly this past week.

For the A’s front office and coaching staff, their lens is a bit difference from the more reactive one of the common fan, although there is a school of thought that “who’s hot and who’s not” should play a role in the decision-making. Cindi heartily agrees with this but probably not in the way the A’s brass is thinking.

I’d be lying if I said the thought of Mike Fiers pitching even 2-3 IP at Yankee Stadium doesn’t make me nervous. We don’t know to what extent runs will be at a premium, but we know that even in the best of times Fiers gives up a fair number of HRs (32 this season) and that the Yankees are homering at a record pace (their 2 HRs today put them at 266 for the season). It doesn’t help that in 10.2 career IP at Yankee Stadium, Fiers has allowed 9 ER — and 4 HRs. Following his very poor outing Friday night, perhaps if the A’s decide to open with an actual SP, Edwin Jackson will get the nod.

Here’s the thing: as much as the Yankees HR, when they don’t hit the ball out of the park they don’t score all that much. Prior to today, when both teams had played 160 games, New York had scored 841 runs with 264 HRs. The A’s have scored 804 runs with 223 HRs. Likely, if the A’s can keep the Yankees hitters in the park they can win the game.

That’s part of why I’m interested in focusing heavily on the trio of Jeurys Familia, Lou Trivino, and Blake Treinen. Familia’s control comes and goes in a frightening way, but usually he keeps the ball in the park. If I’m rolling the dice — and let’s face it, outside of Treinen every single possible choice is a bit of a dice roll — I’d prefer to do it with pitchers whose mistakes generally do not leave the yard.

What about Trivino? Without question his two recent bad outings (September 18th and 21st) were more than bad, they were downright terrible (0.2 IP, 7 total ER). I remain not terribly worried about Trivino in the wild card game, believing that the “real Lou” is the one who resurfaced last night with a 1-2-3 11 pitch inning.

Why was Trivino so bad these two appearances? I don’t feel it was fatigue, or hitting a wall, that will necessarily endure going forward. Trivino was still throwing hard. It’s possible that the neck injury which shut him down for a few days after was responsible, as any issue with range of motion can easily cause an imperceptible but profound change in how pitches behave.

What I saw, and Bob Melvin even mentioned, was that Trivino’s fastball was maintaining velocity but not movement. Trivino thought he wasn’t “getting behind the ball” (a mechanical flaw) and his neck may or may not have played a part, but I have confidence that if healthy Trivino is still a good bet to give the A’s quality innings in the wild card game.

I strongly believe Treinen should get the last 3 IP, and I favor giving another 2 IP each to Trivino and Familia. How you nuance the other 6 outs is less clear to me, with Edwin Jackson, Yusmeiro Petit, Mike Fiers, Daniel Mengden, or even a combo of Ryan Buchter and Fernando Rodney, all seeming like reasonable options but not obvious choices.

But don’t sleep on Trivino, recent troubles and all. There are no sure things in this mix before the A’s go to Treinen, but I maintain that Trivino is still one of their best options, and that Familia makes a lot of sense in the context of Yankee Stadium and Yankee hitters. But that first time through the order. How to get through the order that first time. It’s a tough and fascinating call, isn’t it?