The Oakland A’s recalled pitcher Daniel Mengden on Sunday, the team announced. To make room on the roster, reliever J.B. Wendelken was optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas.
Mengden will start on Sunday against the Indians, marking his 2019 season debut. He’s pitched for Oakland in each of the last three seasons, but opened this year in Triple-A when the MLB rotation was full at the end of the spring. Now a spot has opened for him, for one game at least, as the A’s chose to push Mike Fiers back for an extra day of rest after throwing 131 pitches in his no-hitter on Tuesday, reports Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle.
Last year, Mengden pitched in 22 games for the A’s, including 17 starts, four bulk outings following a bullpen opener, and one outright long relief appearance. He posted a 4.05 ERA overall and also tossed one of the team’s two shutouts on the season.
Mengden, 2018 MLB: 4.05 ERA, 115⅔ ip, 72 Ks, 26 BB, 18 HR, 4.69 FIP
Most recently, the right-hander has been keeping sharp in Triple-A this year. He’s pitched seven games for Vegas, though one was technically out of the bullpen after a Chris Bassitt rehab outing, and he’s been quality more often than not.
Mengden, 2019 AAA: 2.77 ERA, 39 ip, 44 Ks, 14 BB, 4 HR, 3.75 FIP
He last pitched on Tuesday, putting him on the same turn as Fiers and making him the obvious choice for this spot-start opportunity. Meanwhile, on Saturday the A’s traded away fellow starter Edwin Jackson to the Blue Jays, choosing to give Jackson a chance at an MLB job rather than continuing to keep him stashed in Triple-A as emergency depth.
As for Wendelken, there were high hopes for him entering the season but he’s struggled so far. He’s had his moments and the upside is still there, but he’s struggled to find consistency.
Wendelken, 2019: 5.57 ERA, 21 ip, 23 Ks, 6 BB, 2 HR, 3.15 FIP
The right-hander suffered a pair of three-run blowups already in May, including a blown save in Pittsburgh. He’ll wait in Triple-A for his next opportunity.
For now this is a one-game opportunity for Mengden, but personally I hope he sticks permanently. I understood letting him open in the minors while the A’s sorted through all their non-optionable starting depth, but I think it’s clear that he’s one of the team’s five best healthy starters right now and it’s time to shift gears from the experimental April Depth Phase into actually trying to win and contend.
Mengden’s career numbers aren’t anything special, but I can give you a laundry list of reasons and excuses for why that is, including but not limited to some ill-timed non-arm injuries that are now fully in the past. The 26-year-old is a perpetual breakout candidate, and one of these days he’s going to make us wonder why it took so long to get him up to Oakland for good.
In my ideal world, the next move would be to make Aaron Brooks the long man in the bullpen and let Mengden stay and keep the starting spot. I didn’t mind experimenting with Brooks, and I probably gave him a longer leash than any other person in the entire A’s fanbase, but he’s gotten shredded by hard contact his last three times out. Sometimes he can pitch around it, but most likely it’s going to keep catching up to him more often than not. Seeing the A’s stick an opener in front of him on Saturday suggests that they probably feel the same way.
Don’t get me wrong, though, it cost the A’s absolutely nothing to try out Brooks. He made seven “starts,” including the long-man appearance yesterday, and the A’s won four of them. In the three losses, Oakland scored two total runs. It wouldn’t have mattered who they had pitching in those games. But now we’ve gained some data and it screams red flags, while a far superior option is already sitting in the clubhouse just waiting for the green light.
There’s certainly space in the pen. There’s no reason Wendelken can’t stay down for now as part of the taxi squad of optionable relievers who bounce back and forth as needed, alongside Ryan Dull. And the A’s could use some more length in their relief corps given the overtime that is often asked of them, so Brooks would be a good fit in that way.
Stay tuned to see what route the team ends up taking. You’d have to imagine that Mengden’s performance today will play into things, and if he makes a quality start then it’ll be awfully tough to justify sending him back down.