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Oakland A’s pitcher Frankie Montas suspended 80 games for drug violation

He is essentially out for the season and postseason.

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Oakland A’s pitcher Frankie Montas has been suspended for 80 games for a drug violation, reports insider Jeff Passan on Friday. The substance in question is Ostarine, which is banned under the MLB Joint Drug Agreement. Montas will be ineligible for the postseason even if the A’s make it there.

Montas offered the following statement, via the MLBPA (h/t Ken Rosenthal, The Athletic):

I am deeply saddened to confirm that MLB recently notified me I have tested positive for Ostarine, a prohibited substance under MLB’s Joint Drug Agreement. While I never intended to take any prohibited substance, I unfortunately and unknowingly ingested a contaminated supplement that I had purchased over-the-counter at a nutrition store here in the United States. That said, I respect MLB rules and understand my responsibilities under the Joint Drug Agreement, and accept full responsibility. I sincerely apologize to the A’s organization, the fans, my teammates, and my family for this mistake. My hope is to be able to return to the A’s later this season and contribute as best I can.

The A’s followed up with this statement:

The A’s were disappointed upon learning of this suspension. We fully support MLB’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program and we will welcome Frankie back after the discipline has been served.

And Passan added the following:

While sources said he made a compelling argument the banned substance he took was not to enhance pitching performance, Montas accepted the suspension without appealing it.

Montas had been enjoying a breakout season and looked likely to make his first career All-Star team next month. Just last night the right-hander threw eight sparkling innings against Tampa Bay, his eighth quality start in his last nine tries, and his overall numbers were excellent through 15 starts.

Montas, 2019: 2.70 ERA, 90 ip, 97 Ks, 21 BB, 7 HR, 2.86 FIP

The A’s have played 77 games so far, including their yet-unfinished contest against the Tigers, so an 80-game ban will keep Montas out until the final five games of the year. Between that, and being ineligible for the playoffs, his season is essentially done.

This is a huge blow to a starting rotation that had been exceeding all expectations and, at times, carrying the team. The 26-year-old was shaping up as the legitimate ace of a group otherwise filled with reliable mid-rotation arms, all while the bullpen behind them struggles to close games and the offense comes in inconsistent spurts.

The A’s recalled reliever J.B. Wendelken to take Montas’ spot on the roster, the team announced. Montas’ next turn in the rotation would have come on Wednesday, so presumably we can expect to see another move before then to call up a new starter.

Hot takes

Where to begin? The A’s finally kept a starting pitcher healthy, saw him hit his ceiling, and then still lose him. But you can figure out all the downsides and bad news for yourself. Here are a couple bright sides.

First off, there’s no reason to write off the performance Montas showed this year. He’s been throwing upper-90s heat his whole life, so the drugs didn’t suddenly give him that ability. They also didn’t teach him how to throw a splitter, nor how to prioritize efficiently inducing grounders rather than nibbling for strikeouts. Of course we can never know all the details of all angles of everything, and there may be ways that the drugs helped his breakout, but it’s not like he suddenly added four miles to his fastball out of nowhere and then got popped.

Furthermore, this does not end the A’s season. Baseball teams are more than one star player, and if the A’s were going to make a run for the playoffs then they still can. They still have a lineup packed with talent from top to bottom, they still have a few reliable starters in their rotation, and they still have elite prospect Jesus Luzardo and 2018 star Sean Manaea expected to join the crew in the second half, with A.J. Puk maybe showing up in the bullpen too, not to mention a ton of trade chips at their disposal. Of course losing Montas hurts a lot, but Oakland was winning games started by other pitchers as well.

This is a major bummer, and quite the buzzkill after a thrilling comeback win last night that pushed the winning streak to four games. But it is surmountable, if this season was ever meant to be for Oakland. And then, in 2020, Montas still represents a quality young starter under team control for four more seasons, with plenty of rest behind him.