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Jesus Luzardo shut down 4-6 weeks with shoulder strain

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Yet another key pitching injury for the Oakland A’s.

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s have shut down top pitching prospect Jesus Luzardo for 4-6 weeks due to a shoulder strain, reports Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle. Specifically, it’s a rotator cuff strain, adds Daniel Brown of The Athletic. Before you read further, check out Slusser’s full writeup for all the first-hand details.

Luzardo was one of the final names in contention this spring for the fifth starter spot, but this news ends that quest for now. With three veterans on MLB contracts, and Frankie Montas presumed to be a lock due to being out of minor league options, the competition for the final job seems to be down to just Chris Bassitt and Aaron Brooks. For what it’s worth, Bassitt can be optioned to Triple-A but Brooks can’t.

For his part, the 21-year old Luzardo is the top prospect in Oakland’s organization and one of the very best in all of baseball — No. 12 overall according to MLB Pipeline. However, he does have an injury history, including Tommy John surgery back in high school. The lefty had a phenomenal season in the minors in 2018 but was limited to just 109⅓ innings in his return from that major procedure.

This news will feel like deja vu to A’s fans. Last spring, top lefty prospect A.J. Puk was the sensation of the spring, looking like he might not need much time in Triple-A if any at all. Instead he went down with Tommy John just before the season started, a major setback to both his own development and the fortunes of the A’s 2018 rotation. Now history has cruelly repeated itself to an uncanny extent, with a new lefty uber-prospect who was coming off a similarly great Double-A campaign and looking every bit as dominant during the Cactus League.

Hot takes

We just can’t have nice things, at least in Oakland’s starting rotation. The gut punch would be bad enough if this wasn’t the second straight year this had happened, after Puk. This is an absolute bummer, and a significant buzzkill right as we’re all getting excited for the start of the season.

But let’s use this section to look for the bright side. For one, there was always the question of how to handle Luzardo’s workload this season. He barely cracked 100 innings last year, and it was fair to wonder what a reasonable limit might have been this year and how such a limit could be achieved smoothly. Now nature has taken care of that by giving him the first month of the season off. Manager Bob Melvin even said as much, via Slusser:

“You have to look at: How many innings was he going to throw this year? This kind of maybe helps us out as far as that goes,” Melvin said.

Obviously it’s not preferable that Luzardo got hurt, but the point is that it’s a manageable setback for now. Slusser mentions June as a best-case scenario for getting him to the majors, and Melvin expressed optimism about the other midseason reinforcements they have waiting in the wings for the rotation in the meantime.

Let’s all take a deep breath, Athletics Nation. Luzardo is hurt, and shoulders are the worst things for pitchers to injure, but for now it’s just a short-term problem and he’s not out for the year or anything. Personally, I didn’t think he was going to get the nod for the Opening Day squad anyway, so if he returns promptly and 100% in June then (in pure best-case optimism) this could even have the effect of keeping him fresh for the long haul and into October.

Depth chart

Here’s the updated list. See below for the pitching schedule for next week’s Bay Bridge exhibition games.

MLB rotation, can’t be sent to minors

  1. Mike Fiers (MLB contract)
  2. Marco Estrada (MLB contract)
  3. Brett Anderson (MLB contract)
  4. Frankie Montas (out of options)
  5. ***UP FOR GRABS!***

Still in the running for No. 5 spot this spring

  • Aaron Brooks (out of options, but could feasibly move to pen)
  • Chris Bassitt (has 4th option if needed, can be sent down safely)

40-man roster, already optioned to Triple-A

  • Daniel Mengden
  • Paul Blackburn
  • Tanner Anderson

Injured, but might contribute in 2019

  • Jesus Luzardo (out until at least June)
  • Jharel Cotton (out for beginning of 2019, possible in June)
  • A.J. Puk (out for beginning of 2019, and hasn’t pitched in Triple-A)
  • Sean Manaea (might not pitch in 2019, but optimistic)
  • Daniel Gossett (out for most of 2019)

More upper-minors depth, already sent down

  • Parker Bridwell (waiver claim, outrighted to AAA)
  • Jake Buchanan (veteran minor league free agent)
  • Kyle Lobstein (veteran minor league free agent)
  • Grant Holmes (top prospect, but missed all of 2018 to injury)
  • James Naile (fringe Triple-A prospect)
  • Parker Dunshee (intriguing prospect who dominated Double-A)
  • Brian Howard (intriguing prospect who succeeded in Double-A)