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Oakland A’s place Marco Estrada on injured list, recall Chris Bassitt

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The MLB rotation officially has its first injury.

Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s placed pitcher Marco Estrada on the 10-day injured list, the team announced Wednesday. To replace him on the roster, fellow pitcher Chris Bassitt was recalled from Triple-A Las Vegas.

The diagnosis for Estrada is a lumbar strain, in reference to his back. That’s nothing new for the right-hander, who hit the IL twice in 2016 due to back problems and then had his back aggravated last summer by a hip injury. After a couple promising outings in Oakland to begin the season, he got pounded in his last two starts, allowing 13 total runs in 7⅓ innings.

Estrada, 2019: 6.85 ERA, 25⅔ ip, 11 Ks, 8 BB, 7 HR, 7.45 FIP

The 35-year-old’s most recent appearance on Tuesday gave particular cause for concern. His fastball averaged just 87 mph and never once reached 89, helping the Astros rack up two homers, three walks, and a HBP in the span of 19 batters. Estrada has never been known for high velocity, but his heater still averaged 90 mph as recently as 2017, before dropping down below 89 in the second half of 2018 and now down below 88 so far this summer. According to Brooks Baseball, he hasn’t hit 90 on the radar gun a single time since last June, just before his hip landed him on the shelf.

According to Ben Ross of NBCS: “Estrada says it’s been bothering him for a while but he’s been able to pitch through it. Says it’s the right decision to go on the IL though because he’s hurting the team. Velocity down and can’t locate.” Ross goes on to say: “Both Estrada and Bob Melvin said there’s a chance he only misses one start but have to wait and see how he feels. Melvin says it’s something Estrada will probably have to manage all season.” Julian McWilliams of The Athletic adds: “The team had known about it but usually it was something he could pitch through.”

Estrada said the following, via John Shea of the S.F. Chronicle: “I don’t hit guys. I don’t walk guys. I couldn’t pitch yesterday.” Indeed, on Tuesday, Estrada gave up only a couple pieces of particularly hard contact (the two homers and a sharp lineout), while the many free passes he uncharacteristically allowed were what came back to haunt him most.

With Estrada out of action for now, Bassitt comes up to take his spot. The right-hander was himself activated from the IL on Tuesday, but was immediately optioned to Triple-A at that time. Now he’s up in the majors.

Bassitt had been one of the final names in the running for the Opening Day rotation in March, but he took a line drive off the shin in Japan and landed on the IL to start the year. In two rehab outings for Las Vegas, he threw eight total innings and allowed four earned runs, nine strikeouts, two walks, and two homers. Insider Martin Gallegos reports: “[Bassitt is] the likely candidate to fill Estrada’s spot [in the rotation] but could pitch out of the bullpen before that.”

Hot takes

Welp. We knew the rotation would have an injury at some point, and here’s the first of the year, at least among the five arms who started the year in the majors. What makes this especially a bummer is that one of Estrada’s biggest strengths was supposed to be his reliable durability, as a pitcher who’s made at least 28 starts each of the last four seasons. His ceiling isn’t high, but he was supposed to at least play every five days, which was a significant distinction after last year’s incredible rash of rotation injuries.

It’s possible he could be back before we know it and stay on the mound the rest of the year, but it’s also possible this is something that could affect him all summer. We’ll have to wait and see, and in the meantime all we can do is root for a speedy recovery for an athlete in pain.

On the bright side, Estrada has still been exhibiting his other top strength of inducing popups. His 27.3% rate of infield flies this season is among the top few MLB leaders, as usual, and even in his disastrous outing on Wednesday he still racked up six of them in 19 batters. He’s struggled overall, but now we know the bad parts came when he was hurt, so I for one will be giving him a fresh chance whenever he returns.

Regardless of what happens with Estrada, though, this kind of setback was proactively accounted for in the A’s plan. Between Bassitt, Daniel Mengden, Paul Blackburn, and the recently re-signed Edwin Jackson, there are several more arms to turn to in the minors, with a few more key names eyeing midseason returns from injury (like Jesus Luzardo, Sean Manaea, Jharel Cotton, and prospect A.J. Puk). Oakland knew they would lose somebody along the way, and there are quite a few viable reinforcements available when needed.

Best of luck to Estrada in his recovery, and best of luck to Bassitt in his newest opportunity! The 2019 A’s rotation was always going to be an ensemble effort that evolved significantly throughout the course of the year, and now that process begins.

Injury updates

As for the other injured A’s, here are some recent updates. First up, the 10-day IL.

  • Matt Olson, 1B (broken hamate): “Olson swung a fungo for the first time today. Next progression is holding a bat and then a tee,” reports McWilliams (Tue 4/16). Previous reports by Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle detailed Olson getting his cast off (Slusser, 4/2) and his stitches out (Slusser, 4/2), with a note that “it’s just a matter of pain tolerance now.”
  • Nick Martini, OF (knee sprain): “[Martini] says he’s getting close. Doing baseball activities and will take batting practice with the team today,” reports Ross (Tue 4/16)

Next, the 60-day.

  • Chris Herrmann, C (knee surgery): “Chris Herrmann hasn’t [started to run] yet but might be close,” reports Slusser (4/10)
  • Jharel Cotton, RHP (Tommy John surgery): “Jharel Cotton began throwing to hitters a few days ago, big step in his progression from Tommy John. AJ Puk expected to do the same soon. Melvin said the next step would be a minor league rehab assignment: ‘It takes a while to get there, but they’re on the pace we expected,’” reports Gallegos (4/10)
  • Sean Manaea, LHP (shoulder surgery): “Sean Manaea threw from 120 feet for the first time yesterday. He wasn’t sure if a bullpen session or more long toss was the next step, but is excited about the progress,” reports Gallegos (Tue 4/16)

And also, the top prospect.

  • Jesus Luzardo, LHP (shoulder): “Bob Melvin says Jesus Luzardo is feeling terrific. Not throwing yet but chomping at the bit to do so,” reports Slusser (Sun 4/14)

Best of luck to all the injured A’s in their recoveries!