How Frankie Montas’ cuticle injury could affect A’s starting rotation

A’s right-hander Frankie Montas exited Thursday’s Cactus League game against the Mariners with a cuticle (fingernail) tear. Following the game, A’s manager Bob Melvin said Montas suffered a similar injury earlier this spring but was able to work through it. 

For now, Melvin said he doesn’t know when Montas will be able to return. The A’s will monitor his progress leading into a scheduled sim game start on March 31 at the Coliseum.

“We would have liked to gotten a higher pitch count out of him today,” Melvin said. “But he does have a game, he’ll pitch a simulated game in Oakand on our workout day. So hopefully he responds by then and he can get his numbers up as far as pitches and go from there.”

This is the second setback for Montas this spring, as he also got a late start to camp after testing positive with COVID-19. Injuries to pitchers always present fickle situations where there isn’t much room for error.

Ideally for the A’s, Montas recovers and can join the starting rotation for the first time through. But the fact he’s already dealt with this twice so far in the Cactus League is concerning. 

In the event Montas isn’t able to start the season with Oakland, there could be two spots available in the starting rotation. 

Mike Fiers (hip inflammation) was scheduled to throw another bullpen on Thursday, but it sounds like he’s still weeks away from rejoining Oakland.

“He’s feeling good,” Melvin said of Fiers. “It’s just about how quickly we can get him [ready]. It’s the same routine everybody goes through. Couple bullpens, then you throw to hitters then start your game action. We’re not there with him yet. The fact that he feels good, he felt good after his last bullpen going into today is encouraging.”

As it stands now, A.J. Puk, Daulton Jefferies and Cole Irvin are fighting to get into Oakland’s staff to begin the year. Regardless of what happens to Montas, there figures to be long-man spot open in the bullpen to start the year.

Puk’s next start on Saturday will also help provide clarity for this situation. 

The A’s top pitching prospect only pitched 1.2 innings in his last start when he was scheduled to go three. But if Puk can make it four innings on Saturday against Texas, he’ll likely be in the rotation to begin the season. If not, look for Puk to begin the year in the bullpen or build up innings at the alternate site.

“It does factor in,” Melvin said of Puk’s pitch count on Saturday. “We want to have somebody who can at least try to go out there for five innings come opening day, or the first time around the rotation. It’s going to be a big start for him. Not only to perform but to be economical with his pitches to where he can be out there for a number of innings.”

If Montas is out, expect Puk, Jefferies and Irvin to all make the opening day roster, with two of them as a starter and the other as a long man. From there it could be another three-man competition in Oakland to hold on to their spot with the looming returns of Fiers and Montas.