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Oakland A’s injury update: Marco Estrada begins rehab

Also, Sean Manaea moves up to Triple-A.

Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

One theme of the Oakland A’s 2019 season has been following along with the rehabs of several injured pitchers, both major leaguers and top prospects alike. Now we can add another one to the list, as Marco Estrada began a minor league rehab assignment on Thursday.

The right-hander only made five starts for the A’s this season before landing on the injured list with a strained back in mid-April. What’s worse, back problems aren’t new for Estrada, who turned 36 this month. But he suited up for one of the A’s AZL Rookie League teams last night and threw a quick scoreless inning, striking out two of his three batters. The whole outing only took four minutes, and you can see the video below.

While this was just one inning at the lowest level of competitive pro ball, one message has remained clear throughout Estrada’s recovery process: Once he starts pitching, the team doesn’t think he needs much rehab time to get himself ready for the majors, or at least not as much as some other players might. It will still take some time to stretch back out after missing several months, but he’s been through this before and could move particularly fast if all goes well.

Analysis: Granted, Estrada might not seem like the most exciting get. He wasn’t a popular signing here on Athletics Nation, and that was before he posted a 6.85 ERA and got hurt. But the A’s are just about out of rotation depth until/unless they acquire someone before the trade deadline (or until/unless one of the other injured arms actually returns), and Estrada is at least an experienced major league talent — the question is just whether he’s got anything left in the tank.

We all have our sights set higher for a rotation addition, but you could also do a lot worse. And it would be the most A’s thing ever for Estrada to return in September and fire off a bunch of clutch quality starts to seal the drive to October. After all, his first three starts of the year graded excellently on Statcast before his back really flared up enough to knock him out completely.

Manaea up to AAA

Meanwhile, Sean Manaea continues to progress in his recovery from shoulder surgery last September. After three outings with High-A Stockton, the left-hander moved up to Triple-A Las Vegas for his most recent appearance on Wednesday. His numbers came out a bit shaky, but the important thing for now is that he threw 76 pitches and felt good.

Manaea, AAA: 4⅓ ip, 5 runs, 7 Ks, 1 BB, 5 hits, 3 HR

Manager Bob Melvin said the following about Manaea’s performance, via insider Martin Gallegos, who noted Manaea’s velocity was around the same 89 mph he’s shown thus far in his rehab:

“Everybody sees the numbers, but it’s tough to evaluate performance in Vegas. I know at least one of those home runs was what they’re calling a ‘Vegas home run.’ More than anything, he’s healthy today and got to the pitch count we wanted.”

However, the results will begin to matter in Manaea’s next couple starts, and he’ll also continue to stretch that pitch count up toward that of a normal starter. More from Melvin, via Ryan Gorcey of the S.F. Examiner:

“More than anything, he’s healthy today, he got to the pitch count that we wanted him to. The next two, we’ll probably look at [numbers] little more so. He’ll be up to 90 [pitches], maybe a little plus, the next one. We’ll see where we are after that. I think, from what everybody said, velo was what it was expected to be, and his location was good, his command was good, and I think that’s what we’re looking for mostly.”

The likely target date for Manaea’s return to Oakland is Aug. 7, points out Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle. His rehab stint began July 8 and can go a maximum of 30 days before he must be activated, so there’s time for him to make two more starts in Triple-A before coming off the IL and slotting back into the A’s rotation.

Also in Triple-A is Jharel Cotton, coming back from Tommy John surgery in April 2018. He’s made three relief outings and allowed two runs in each, in a total of 3⅔ innings, to go with four strikeouts and three walks. Cotton’s own rehab stint re-started on July 9 after a brief setback for hamstring surgery, and if/when he returns to Oakland this summer it will be in the bullpen.

Both Cotton and Manaea do have minor league options remaining, though, for what it’s worth.

Luzardo throwing

Jesus Luzardo is also making strides in his recovery from a strained lat. The left-hander “threw two bullpen sessions this week and came away feeling healthy,” reports Gallegos.

Here’s more on the A’s top prospect from our latest minor league roundup:

A further update came from Susan Slusser on her A’s Plus podcast, speaking with Gil Patterson, the A’s minor league pitching coordinator. Patterson said that Luzardo is scheduled to throw two innings in early August, either in a sim game or an Arizona Rookie League game, and that from there he could begin ramping up his workload again toward that of a starter. Patterson said Luzardo feels “tremendous,” and a debut in Oakland this September is still a possibility.

Piscotty close to rehab

On the other side of the ball, outfielder Stephen Piscotty is on the mend from his sprained knee. He’s been running and doing some outfield drills lately, and both Gallegos and Gorcey note that he might begin a rehab assignment this weekend. Fortunately, the rest of the outfield has been super hot in his absence. (UPDATE: Indeed, Piscotty will go to Triple-A on Saturday for a rebab assignment, reports Ben Ross of NBCS.)

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