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Oakland A’s recall Paul Blackburn, send him back down, and recall J.B. Wendelken

Some bullpen depth to finish off the last couple games before the All-Star break.

Photo by Rick Ulreich/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Oakland A’s have shuffled the back end of their pitching staff over the last couple days, as the first half of the season draws to a close ahead of the All-Star break next week. On Friday, the team recalled starting pitcher Paul Blackburn, optioning out fellow starter Tanner Anderson to make room. Then on Saturday, they sent Blackburn back down to Triple-A Las Vegas and recalled reliever J.B. Wendelken.

The right-hander Wendelken has made 20 appearances for the A’s this year. Athletics Nation had high hopes for him as a breakout candidate and he hasn’t yet lived up to that hype, but he’s done enough to keep himself in the picture and get more looks in the majors. He recently made two appearances in late June, during which time he earned his first career MLB win with some clutch relief against the Cardinals.

Wendelken, 2019 MLB: 4.94 ERA, 23⅔ ip, 24 Ks, 7 BB, 2 HR, 3.29 FIP

The A’s now have four starters on their active roster, but with the break coming they don’t need a fifth man again until at least July 17. They could even delay that until July 20 if they wanted, thanks to an off-day on their first Monday back.

In somewhat related news, pitcher Aaron Brooks was claimed off waivers by the Orioles, the A’s announced Saturday. The right-hander began the year in Oakland’s rotation, but moved to the bullpen after just six starts. He only pitched nine times since the beginning of May, though he managed a respectable 3.79 ERA during that time (albeit with a poor 5.31 FIP). For the season, he threw 50⅓ innings with a shaky 5.01 ERA and 5.67 FIP, leading to being designated for assignment on Wednesday when Blake Treinen returned from the injured list.

Hot takes

Tanderson wasn’t going to start again for a while, so sending him down was an obvious move to use his roster spot on some some extra bullpen depth in the meantime. The A’s did the same thing with Frankie Montas last July, when he had a long layoff coming during the All-Star break.

On top of that, Tanderson also got knocked around in his last couple starts (total 7⅓ ip, 8 ER, 17 hits), so who knows whether we’ll see him or Blackburn make that July 17/20 start when the time comes. In his one chance this year, amid the Texas heat in a doubleheader, Blackburn got blasted just as hard as Tanderson has been lately. Or, maybe there will be a surprise third option who is given an audition in the bigs, though unfortunately we know it won’t be freshly injured top prospect Jesus Luzardo.

Here’s my best guess about why Blackburn came up for just the one day. After Tanderson was knocked out in the 5th inning on Thursday, Oakland had to get seven outs from Wei-Chung Wang, who is effectively their long-man now after the DFA of Brooks. Furthermore, that game came on the heels of a 12-inning marathon on Wednesday, in which they emptied the pen of everyone except Wang.

All of that made Blackburn a sensible choice as an emergency alternate long-man for Friday, just in case one was needed. Instead, Brett Anderson picked up the slack by pitching into the 7th, giving most of the pen a day off. With the need for emergency length now less imminent, it makes sense to turn Blackburn into Wendelken, who can also go two or three innings if necessary but is a more palatable option in a close game than an out-of-role Blackburn.

UPDATE: Or, as Nico points out in the comments, it’s probably as simple as the fact that Wendelken wasn’t eligible to be recalled until today, the 10th day since he was last optioned to the minors. That makes more sense than my complicated guess above.

Chris Bassitt and Daniel Mengden are scheduled to start this weekend in the final two games before the break, which lasts from Monday through Thursday. The season resumes on Friday, with three games at home against the White Sox.