Jesús Luzardo rejoined the A’s on Sunday but with a different role. Despite starting the season as the team’s No. 2 starter, now he’ll be the second southpaw option coming out of the bullpen for manager Bob Melvin.
The 23-year-old only has himself to blame for losing his rotation spot to James Kaprielian. Before his start on May 1, Luzardo fractured his pinky after hitting a table while playing a video game.
For now, he figures to slot in as the team’s situational lefty, while Jake Diekman will continue to be the top southpaw in high-leverage spots. Melvin said the A’s would like to stretch out Luzardo, but it’s hard to make someone into a starter and have them be a big-league reliever at the same time.
You figure Luzardo is just knocking on the door of the rotation until someone falters or has an extended string of bad starts. Kaprielian (1.53 ERA) has earned his spot by building with three starts, getting better each time out.
But as Luzardo said, he’s a starter at heart.
Luzardo on moving to A’s bullpen: “My heart is on being a starter. But, like I said, whatever I can do to help the team win.” pic.twitter.com/b1u7LZpVvL
— The Rickey Henderson of Blogs (@RickeyBlog) May 30, 2021
The A’s envision him as a frontline guy despite his struggles with the longball and going deep into games, so it seems inevitable he will return to the rotation. Injuries are also part of the game and Luzardo is a fine insurance option for Oakland. Not to mention Daulton Jefferies is building strength up with Triple-A Las Vegas and hasn’t allowed a run or a walk in 8 1/3 innings with the Aviators with four strikeouts.
Starting pitching depth isn’t the problem for the A’s, even with Mike Fiers on the 60-day injured list. The bullpen depth, especially from the left side, appears to be the biggest hole on the roster.
That’s where former fan favorite Sean Doolittle comes in. Shoutout to @rickeyblog reader DJ Cabrera for the idea!
The A’s were hoping veteran southpaw Adam Kolarek would be a cog to the bullpen but he looks way too hittable, especially against right-handers. Kolarek has got knocked around in two Triple-A starts since his demotion to the Aviators on May 21.
Returning to Oakland would be like a homecoming for Doolittle, who signed a very affordable one-year, $1.5 million contract with the Cincinnati Reds this past offseason. The 34-year-old’s 4.2 BB/9 rate is probably higher than he’d like, but his 13.0 K/9 rate is the best of his career. Not to mention the Reds (22-28) are in fourth place in an NL Central division that will probably be won by the St. Louis Cardinals (30-22) or the Chicago Cubs (29-22).
There are still two months ‘til the non-waiver trade deadline, but Doolittle checks a lot of the boxes: he would be a cheap rental, the Reds could be sellers, the A’s could use a proven veteran lefty and he knows all about the quirks of playing Oakland.
Granted, righties (.303) are faring better than lefties (.194) against Doolittle this season, but he would be a nice option to throw in the mix. He’s got a 3.86 ERA, 3.77 FIP and 1.39 WHIP. Doolittle is throwing his 93 mph heater nearly 90 percent of the time, while the other 10 percent of pitches have been sliders. According to FanGraphs, he was only averaging 90.7 mph fastballs in 2020, so it’s good to see the uptick in velocity.
I can only imagine the type of headbanging reception Doolittle would get if he returned to Oakland.
The A’s drafted him as a first baseman/outfielder in 2007 before converting him to a pitcher. He eventually morphed into one of the game’s nastiest high-leverage guys with the A’s before his successful four-year run with the Washington Nationals, where he won the 2019 World Series and made his second All-Star team in 2018.
You already know the Doolittles would absolutely eat up a return to the Bay, even if it is for just a playoff run. Ditto for the fans, many of whom probably still have their No. 62 jerseys somewhere.
Now, what would the A’s give up in return? The cupboard is pretty bare, as the A’s minor league system is regarded as one of baseball’s worst at the moment. But it probably wouldn’t cost too much.
It’s too bad right-handed Grant Holmes (10.47 ERA) isn’t having a better year in Triple-A but he would be a prime trade candidate, given the A’s starting pitching depth at the moment. Top outfield prospect Luis Barrera might be asking too much, but perhaps another player like Greg Deichmann?
I’m not a general manager, but I will play the role of matchmaker here — because I know that the A’s need some southpaw depth and Doo would be a fine candidate for a reunion.