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Oakland A’s injury updates: Jharel Cotton, Nick Martini begin rehab assignments

Plus more pitching help on the horizon

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s have gotten good injury news lately, with Matt Olson and Mark Canha returning to action after missing time early in the season while Khris Davis and Blake Treinen recovered quickly from their own minor scares. There could be more help on the way, too, as a couple more names have progressed to the point of going on minor league rehab assignments.

Jharel Cotton, RHP

The right-hander had Tommy John surgery back in March 2018, and now he’s officially getting back on the mound. Cotton will make his first minor league rehab outing for High-A Stockton this evening (Friday), according to the Ports’ website. That means Cotton “could return next month if the A’s believe he’s major-league ready,” reports Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle, which matches the reporting up to this point that pegged June as a timetable-if-nothing-else-goes-wrong.

Analysis: Of course any viable starting pitcher would be a big boost for the A’s. The rotation is actually doing alright at the moment, but that can always change quickly with another injury, and even the arms who are pitching well aren’t yet established enough for us to know their success will continue. Cotton posted a 5.58 ERA in his 2017 rookie season, but he was one of the team’s top prospects and has the talent to do much better.

Nick Martini, OF

After hurting his knee early in spring training, diagnosed as a Grade 2 PCL tear, he’s back in action in the minors. Martini played his first rehab game last Wednesday (May 8), and he’s now appeared in five games and reached base in all of them. Overall he’s 5-for-14 with four walks and one strikeout.

Analysis: Even when Martini does return, it’s unclear what his role will be out the gate. The A’s have his alter-ego walk-machine Robbie Grossman in Oakland already, and while Grossman hasn’t been great he’s at least been good enough to stick around. We’ll see what the A’s do with their personnel, but Martini could possibly find himself waiting for the next MLB injury to open up a spot for him.

Chris Herrmann, C

He was supposed to be the primary catcher this year, but he had knee surgery during the spring and hasn’t yet played. Fortunately, he has now resumed baseball activity, reports insider Martin Gallegos. He still hasn’t begun running, though, says Gallegos. There’s not a specific timetable for his return, but he should reach the minimum 60 days (for his 60-day IL stint) around the end of next week so eligibility shouldn’t be an issue when he does become ready.

Analysis: Getting back Herrmann could be huge. The A’s catching situation took a big with the loss of top prospect Sean Murphy, who tore the meniscus in his knee. Murphy was hitting well in Triple-A and looked like a good bet to help Oakland sooner than later, but now he’ll be out for a couple months. He still could arrive later in the second half, but it would be more prudent to assume his clock is pushed back to 2020 and then count it as a bonus if he does make it this summer. If the A’s are contending in August, do we really want them breaking in a brand-new rookie catcher down the stretch drive?

In the meantime, Josh Phegley is making some noise at the plate but Nick Hundley is struggling mightily. Without Murphy to look forward to, the breakout candidate Herrmann could end up being a valuable upgrade over Hundley.

Sean Manaea, LHP

After having shoulder surgery last September, the initial fear was that Manaea would miss all of 2019, but the prognosis turned out more optimistic than that. And indeed, he is making great progress toward that best-case goal. The lefty has thrown three bullpen sessions, reports Slusser, and could possibly be back as soon as August. For more details, check out Slusser’s writeup.

Marco Estrada, RHP

Last month he had an ablation procedure for his strained back, and that has him feeling better, reported Slusser last week. However, Estrada has not yet begun a throwing program, via insider Daniel Kramer, and as of Monday there was not yet a timetable for his return, according to insider Jim Duquette. The veteran starter pitched five games for Oakland before landing on the IL.

Pitching prospects

Several of the A’s top pitching prospects are dealing with injuries. Quick updates on each, mostly courtesy of Slusser and also Athletics Farm and Melissa Lockard of The Athletic:

  • LHP Jesus Luzardo threw a bullpen this week and “should start throwing side sessions by the end of the month,” says Slusser, who added he’s still a late-season possibility for Oakland. Luzardo could maybe join a minor league team in late-June, reports Athletics Farm.
  • LHP A.J. Puk is about a month behind Cotton in TJS recovery, on top of the fact that he’s never yet thrown a pitch in Triple-A much less MLB. Way more details about him in Slusser’s story, including that Puk has his velocity in the mid-90s.
  • RHP James Kaprielian is “scheduled to throw three innings for Stockton on Saturday,” reports Lockard. It’s been a looong recovery from TJS, full of setbacks and false starts, so at this point A’s fans will believe it when we see it but it sounds like he really is getting back in action this time. Either way, there’s still a long way to go, as A’s Farm reports “that he was throwing between 88-92 mph, that [a scout] didn’t think his stuff looked all that sharp and that he still had a long way to go to regain his prior form.”
  • RHP Daulton Jefferies has stayed healthy so far, after his own long road back from TJS. After opening in Stockton, he’s now pitched three games for Double-A Midland, throwing three innings per appearance. The results have been mixed, but the important thing is that he’s on the mound at all and on the bright side he’s yet to walk a batter in nine frames.
  • RHP Grant Holmes pitched three games for Double-A Midland after missing basically all of 2018 to a shoulder problem. However, he hasn’t played since April 17, and he officially went back on the IL on May 6. The issue is once again his shoulder, reports Athletics Farm, though it’s unclear how bad it is this time.

More minor leaguers on the injured list: RHP Andrew Triggs (AAA), LHP Dean Kiekhefer (AAA), C Sean Murphy (AAA), RHP Wyatt Marks (A+), LHP Jared Poche’ (A+), 1B Alfonso Rivas (A+), RHP Joe DeMers (A), RHP Daniel Martinez (A), and 2B Ryan Gridley (A).

One last name on the MLB injured list is RHP Daniel Gossett, recovering from TJS last August. As I previously reported, he is unlikely to get back to MLB this season.

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