The Oakland A’s placed closer Blake Treinen on the 10-day injured list, the team announced Sunday. Righty reliever Brian Schlitter was recalled from Triple-A Las Vegas to take his spot on the roster.
The All-Star closer described his injury as a mild rotator cuff strain, reports Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle. There is no timetable for his return.
Treinen was arguably baseball’s best reliever in 2018. He won the Reliever of the Month Award twice, in May and September, as well as Baseball Digest’s Relief Pitcher of the Year Award. He led all relievers with a 6.47 WPA, while his 0.78 ERA was the lowest in MLB history for a pitcher with at least 80 innings thrown.
The 2019 season has not been as kind to Treinen. His ERA has skyrocketed, and his two losses already match his total from the entirety of 2018, as do his 21 walks. In his most recent outing on Thursday night, he entered in the ninth to hold a 1-1 tie. He walked the first two batters he faced, was pulled before he could record an out, and was charged with three earned runs.
Treinen, 2019: 2-2, 16 SV, 2 BS, 4.08 ERA, 35⅓ IP, 36 K, 21 BB
In early May, the 30-year-old was sidelined with what was described as right elbow soreness. He was not placed on the IL and missed just a handful of games. But there might have been more to the story — Treinen told reporters, including Slusser, that his shoulder has been bothering him for “several weeks.”
In Treinen’s absence, it appears the A’s will use veteran righty Liam Hendriks in the closer’s role. With Treinen unavailable on Saturday, manager Bob Melvin turned to Hendriks with a two-run lead in the ninth. He pitched a clean inning with two strikeouts for his first save since September 2017.
Hendriks, 2019: 3-0, 1 SV, 1 BS, 1.49 ERA, 42⅓ IP, 50 K, 17 BB
In a corresponding move, the A’s recalled reliever Brian Schlitter from Triple-A Las Vegas. The right-hander was also added to the 40-man roster, taking the spot vacated by Frankie Montas when he went to the restricted list for his 80-game PED suspension.
The last time Schlitter appeared in MLB was 2015, with the Chicago Cubs. Alex Hall wrote the following about him after he was signed as a minor league free agents this past winter:
Schlitter first reached the majors all the way back in 2010, and then again in 2014-15, all with the Cubs. In between those stints, he missed 2011 due to Tommy John surgery. He was in the bigs for nearly all of 2014 (for 56⅓ innings), to the tune of 4.15 ERA, 3.61 FIP, and 12 holds in 16 tries (decent all around). More recently, he spent 2017 in Japan and then last summer in the Dodgers system.
The 33-year-old brings some strong velocity, with the latest readings from Brooks Baseball (from 2016) putting his four-seam at 96 and his sinker at 95. He also mixes in a slider, and the whole package adds up to a serious groundball profile. In Triple-A he’s consistently well over 60% grounders (68.1% last year), and his full 2014 in the majors produced a 59.9% that ranked toward the top of the league that season. He’s a pure reliever and has never started a pro game, but he’s been capable of going a second inning now and then.
This year in Triple-A Las Vegas, Schlitter continued to rack up a huge 67.9% groundball rate, helping him to the following numbers:
Schlitter, 2019 AAA: 3.89 ERA, 34⅔ ip, 27 Ks, 5 BB, 5 HR, 4.54 FIP
The A’s pen currently includes nine arms: Hendriks, Trivino, Soria, Petit, Buchter, Wang, Brooks, Wendelken, and Schlitter.
If there’s a sliver lining here, it’s that Treinen was, in fact, trying to pitch through an injury, as many here suspected. It helps provide an explanation for his struggles this season, especially his loss of command. Once he’s back and healthy, there’s a chance he’ll be back to his dominant 2018 form.
But until then, Oakland’s shaky bullpen is going to have to find a way to succeed. Fortunately, Hendriks has been legitimately fantastic, thanks to a change in pitch mix and batted ball results. This is more than just a hot streak — he’s become a great late-inning option.
It’s the rest of the bullpen that will have to step up. Yusmeiro Petit is on a hot streak of his own, as he struck out each of the four batters he faced in Saturday’s win, and Joakim Soria hasn’t allowed a run in his last four outings. But Ryan Buchter can’t find the strike zone, Wei-Chung Wang is starting to look human, and Lou Trivino has been inexplicably awful since the end of April.
The A’s will have to avoid the temptation to rush Treinen back, and hopefully the team’s late-inning arms can step it up and allow the All-Star closer all of the rest he needs. Melvin won’t be able to use Hendriks every night, so he’ll be forced to trust some of his struggling arms in high-leverage situations and they’ll need to perform. Otherwise, Oakland might just fall right out of the playoff picture.