San Francisco Chronicle
Team mulling a ‘flexible’ format for its rotation
LAS VEGAS — There is a chance the Oakland Athletics will open the season with a six-man rotation.
“We’ve mapped it out a lot of different ways,” general manager David Forst said Saturday. “Things that look like a six-man (rotation) or an occasional bullpen day or an occasional spot starter. There are a lot of ways to do it. I just don’t think we’ll know what they are until we get really into the season.”
In 2021, the same five pitchers started all but 18 of the A’s games, but personnel and other factors could produce a different approach this season.
One element is managing newcomer Shintaro Fujinami’s workload. In Japan, Fujinami pitched once per week as a starter and spent parts of recent seasons as a reliever. He isn’t used to starting every five days. The A’s could give Fujinami extra days between starts. Doing so could help Fujinami to pitch deeper into the season, as he averaged just 93 innings his last four seasons.
Forst said nothing is set in stone.
“We’re going to keep being flexible,” Forst said. “He has expressed that he really wants to work with us, and he doesn’t want to be sort of the outlier. … We have to get to know him a little better and see how he bounces back on each of his outings. When he starts going three, four innings, I think we’ll have a better idea.”
One effect of a fluid rotation might be to disrupt starting pitchers’ routines between outings. Forst countered that “it never hurts those guys to have extra rest,” and that starters might only make about half of their appearances on four days’ rest anyway in a normal season, thanks to off-days.
“My job is to be ready to pitch when they want me to pitch, and that’s how I’m going to approach it,” said Paul Blackburn, an AllStar last season. “As a starting pitcher, your routine is a big thing. But it’s always nice, too, when you do get an extra day. … I think it’s just something everyone’s going to have to figure out and get used to.”
Fujinami is not the A’s only rotation candidate who has not started regularly in the majors. On the 40-man roster, only Blackburn and James Kaprielian have made at least 20 MLB starts in a season. Kyle Muller, Ken Waldichuk, JP Sears, Adrián Martínez, Adam Oller and Freddy Tarnok all spent part of last year at Triple-A.
Last month Forst named Blackburn, Fujinami and Drew Rucinski as slated for initial rotation roles. Kaprielian remains a question as he returns from shoulder surgery, but manager Mark Kotsay said Kaprielian still has time to build up enough to start the season in the rotation.
It is likely, Forst said, that the rotation questions will have a ripple effect on how the A’s structure their bullpen to open the year.
“We know we only have eight guys in the ’pen, but I think it will affect what we think we need in terms of guys who can go two or three innings,” Forst said. “That will change as the season goes along, but we’ve definitely talked about some of these starting pitcher candidates, what it looks like if they’re in the bullpen, or someone who can go through a lineup one time or something to kind of bridge to the back-end guys.”
With three weeks until the season starts, Forst did offer one prediction for the A’s rotation.
“It will not be well-defined,” he said. “Whatever it is, we will not say Opening Night, ‘Here’s our sixman rotation, it’s staying like this.’ It will be flexible.”
Team removes 16 from camp roster
The A’s pared 16 players from their major-league camp roster Sunday, including two 40-man roster players, outfielder Cal Stevenson and pitcher Luis Medina, who were optioned to Triple-A.
Non-roster invitees reassigned to minor-league camp were pitchers J.T. Ginn, Deolis Guerra, Daulton Jefferies, Jorge Juan, Nolan Long, Mason Miller, Norge Ruiz and Trey Supak; catcher Daniel Susac; infielders Ernie Clement, Kevin Cron, Logan Davidson and Max Muncy; and outfielder Cody Thomas.
The A’s have 52 players still in camp, 38 players on the 40-man roster and 14 non-roster invitees.
Blackburn threw 46 pitches in his Cactus League debut Sunday, recording three outs and allowing five hits, two walks and six runs. Blackburn said he’s fully recovered from a finger injury that ended his 2022 season early and it was “good to get back out there and experience the (pitch) clock.” Kotsay said Blackburn tore a fingernail on his pitching hand in the outing but was OK to keep pitching and “shouldn’t miss a start because of it.” … Medina hit 100 mph and notched two strikeouts in two scoreless innings. … Reliever Dany Jiménez sat 91-93 mph in one inning, up from 88-89 mph in his first Cactus League outing … Attendance for the A’s 12-4 loss to the Reds at Las Vegas Ballpark was 8,024. … The A’s split-squad in Arizona lost 10-3 to the Padres. Starter Ken Waldichuk worked 12⁄3 innings with two runs allowed. … Catcher Manny Piña (calf ) is running and might get at-bats in minor-league camp that don’t require him to run bases.