The Oakland A’s placed relief pitcher J.B. Wendelken on the injured list Thursday, the team announced. To take his spot on the roster, fellow pitcher James Kaprielian was recalled.
The reason for Wendelken’s IL trip was not disclosed by the team, which is unusual since most injuries are explained right away. Also worth noting is that their press releases usually specify the 10-day injured list, and this one did not, merely referring to the injured list in general. All of that makes it easy to speculate that the cause might be related to coronavirus, which brings relatively unique restrictions on public announcements and also has its own separate IL.
Indeed, Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle broached the topic in her immediate analysis on Thursday.
“The A’s will not be announcing anything additional about the reasons for placing Wendelken on the injured list. This doesn’t necessarily mean a positive COVID test, it could mean potential exposure to someone with the virus or symptoms that might require further testing.”
Despite this development, the A’s still played their scheduled game Thursday night against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and are expected to play as planned on Friday against the Seattle Mariners at home in the Coliseum. Slusser touched on that topic as well before Thursday’s game:
“The fact the A’s have not had their game postponed is an indication that if there is any kind of virus component to Wendelken going on the IL, there are not concerns with the rest of the team. Reminder: the A’s entered the bubble essentially Monday.”
One more update from Slusser, Friday morning:
“MLB says no positive COVID test results among players through Thursday. That would seem to suggest that if Wendelken’s absence is COVID related, it was either contact with someone who had been exposed to the virus recently, or symptoms of illness that require more testing.”
The A’s had their season interrupted by the virus earlier this summer when pitcher Daniel Mengden tested positive at the end of August, despite team reports that nobody broke safety protocols in any way. The club postponed four games over five days before returning to action. Mengden, who never displayed symptoms, has since recovered and been cleared to return, though he was then designated for assignment and outrighted to Triple-A.
One of those missed contests is still yet to be made up this weekend against the Mariners, but now Oakland will play it without Wendelken. The A’s have the best bullpen in the sport, leading the majors in ERA, FIP, and Win Probability Added, and the right-hander has been one of many brilliant performers in that group.
Wendelken: 1.80 ERA, 25 ip, 31 Ks, 11 BB, 2 HR, 3.07 FIP
He’s also converted both of the save/hold opportunities he’s been given (earning two holds), and per Statcast his .282 xwOBA ranks fifth on the team behind Liam Hendriks, Joakim Soria, Jake Diekman, and Jordan Weems.
While the 27-year-old doesn’t receive the highest-leverage innings on the staff, Wendelken has generally succeeded in whatever situations he’s been placed, even if it just means holding the other team at bay long enough for his own teammates to come back from a deficit. He’s thrown two or more full innings in five of his 21 appearances, and he’s allowed only eight of his 25 inherited runners to score, for a solid 32% rate.
The A’s have ludicrous depth in their pen right now, and Wendelken wasn’t at the top of that org chart, but he’s still an important presence and losing him for any amount of time in the postseason would be a bummer — especially with relievers usually taking on a bigger role in October, as teams often pull their starters earlier than they do in the regular season. Slusser notes that there are allowances for players to join postseason rosters late this year if they are returning from the COVID-related IL, if that is indeed the version of the IL that Wendelken has been placed on.
To fill in for now, the A’s brought back the rookie Kaprielian. This is the fifth time the right-hander has been called up this year, but he’s only made it into one game, in which he threw two innings and allowed just a solo homer while throwing up to 97 mph. Twice he was the bonus 29th man for a doubleheader, but his help was ultimately not needed in the end on those days. Analysis: If there is any thought of Kap making the postseason roster, then it might be wise to get him some live MLB game action this weekend against the Mariners.
Here’s the updated 28-man roster.
Sean Manaea (L)
Chris Bassitt (R)
Jesus Luzardo (L)
Frankie Montas (R)
Mike Fiers (R)
Mike Minor (L)
Liam Hendriks (R)
Yusmeiro Petit (R)
Joakim Soria (R)
Jake Diekman (L)
T.J. McFarland (L)
Lou Trivino (R)
Jordan Weems (R)
James Kaprielian (R)
Sean Murphy (R)
Jonah Heim (S)
Matt Olson (L)
Tommy La Stella (L)
Marcus Semien (R)
Tony Kemp (L)
Jake Lamb (L)
Vimael Machin (L)
Nate Orf (R)
Mark Canha (R)
Robbie Grossman (S)
Ramon Laureano (R)
Stephen Piscotty (R)
Khris Davis (R)
Injured list: RHP J.B. Wendelken (undisclosed)
10-day IL: 3B Matt Chapman (hip), UT Chad Pinder (hamstring)
45-day IL: LHP A.J. Puk (shoulder), RHP Burch Smith (forearm)