We’re now two weeks into 2021 Cactus League games, and Opening Day is just over two weeks away. The stakes are rising on the injury report, in terms of actual effect on the upcoming season, so let’s check in on the latest.
The top news involves starting pitcher Mike Fiers, who was pulled from action last week before making his Cactus League debut.
Fiers’ injury was initially thought to be a back issue, but an MRI revealed it to be right hip inflammation, reports Matt Kawahara of the S.F. Chronicle. He’ll have an injection Monday and reevaluate in a couple days, adds Kawahara.
The uncertain nature of Fiers’ timetable makes it impossible to guarantee his readiness for the beginning of the season, so he remains a question mark for the Opening Day roster. Even after he gets back on the mound, he’ll need to catch up in terms of stretching out and facing live batters.
If Fiers starts the year on the injured list, there are several names on hand to fill in. One is lefty top prospect A.J. Puk, who is himself working back from a shoulder injury that cost him all of 2020. He is yet to appear in a Cactus League game, but he threw to hitters in a simulated game on Saturday and earned praise from manager Bob Melvin for his velocity, breaking ball, and changeup, per Athletics Farm.
As for Puk’s chance of breaking camp in the rotation, Melvin said the following, per Athletics Farm: “Ideally A.J. [Puk] would be a guy we would look to, but whether or not we’re in a position innings-wise for him, we’ll see how the rest of the spring goes.” (Click here for full video.)
Among the other candidates, righty top prospect Daulton Jefferies has also stood out this spring. Beyond that, lefty Cole Irvin is the only other starter remaining in MLB camp after the first round of cuts Monday morning.
In the bullpen, another pitcher made progress last weekend.
New closer Trevor Rosenthal had a brief recent setback due to a slight groin strain, but he has resumed throwing. Melvin gave the following update Sunday, per Athletics Farm: “He threw a ‘pen today. Feels good. I think we’re looking at 2 days off and then he’s gonna throw in a game.”
That would put Rosenthal on target for a Wednesday debut in the Cactus League if all goes well.
The Oakland A’s made two picks in the Rule 5 draft last winter, and we’ve already seen one of them in reliever Dany Jimenez. Now we’ll finally get our first look at the other new prospect.
Outfielder Ka’ai Tom is in the starting lineup Monday, playing right field. He was delayed to this point by an oblique injury, but now is back in action. The left-handed batter counts on-base skills among his strengths at the plate, and it will be interesting to finally watch him on defense, as some reports suggest he’s a plus fielder.
As a Rule 5 pick, Tom must either make the Opening Day roster or be offered back to his old team (Cleveland), so missing half the Cactus League audition period is a tough blow. But if his health holds up from here, then there’s still time for him to prove himself and earn a job by the end of the month.
Catcher Sean Murphy is still recovering from surgery for a collapsed lung, but he’s gradually getting back into action. Melvin on Saturday, per Athletics Farm:
“Sean Murphy will play in a sim game today, he’ll take at-bats. He’s catching now, he’s starting to ramp up. So now he’s gonna take some live at-bats today.”
Murphy could get into his first Cactus League game this week, adds Alex Coffey of The Athletic.