James Kaprielian’s spot in A’s rotation is his to lose

The next two days could go a long way in shaping the A’s pitching staff for the coming weeks.

James Kaprielian is set to make his third start in the Oakland rotation Wednesday against the Mariners and could keep his grasp on the No. 5 starter’s role with a solid showing. That’s because Jesús Luzardo could return to the A’s to provide some much-needed southpaw depth in the bullpen.

When the A’s acquired left-handed reliever Adam Kolarek from the Los Angeles Dodgers this offseason, they probably didn’t expect him to be shuttling back and forth between Oakland and Triple-A Las Vegas. He’s currently with the Aviators after posting an 8.00 ERA in 12 games between two stints with the A’s.

Last season Kolarek posted a 0.95 ERA (2 earned runs in 19 innings) but many were weary about his ability to retire right-handed batters consistently. This season, big-league righties are batting .441 against him while lefties are batting .211. The three-batter minimum rule doesn’t do him any favors.

Top A’s southpaw reliever Jake Diekman has been solid but much more human after a nearly unhittable 2020 campaign. He has posted a 3.15 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in 21 games after having a 0.42 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in 21 appearances last year. 

Behind Diekman, the next lefty in the ‘pen is Reymin Guduan, who has come back down to earth after a bad start. His 6.28 ERA is reduced to 2.19 over his past nine appearances, but I still don’t know if you can trust him in leverage situations.

Luzardo began the year as the No. 2 starter, so being the No. 2 lefty in the bullpen might be something of a demotion, but Kaprielian has clearly impressed A’s manager Bob Melvin and is already stretched out to be a starter. Luzardo is set to make another rehab start on Thursday and could rejoin Oakland shortly after if he makes it through healthy. 

The promising 23-year-old lefty injured his pinky after supposedly hitting on a table while playing a video game. In the process, he could have knocked himself out of the rotation. Melvin said the A’s would consider bringing back Luzardo as a reliever if it meant he could join Oakland quicker.

“There’s a potential that we bring him back and try to stretch him out that way,” Melvin said Monday. “It allows us to get him back sooner than later. If we wanted to get him back and we want a full complement of pitching, he would probably need three rehab starts, somewhere along those lines. We’re still kind of thinking about it some. 

“Like I said, it could allow us to bring him back quicker if we pitched him out of the bullpen and stretched him out some … That’s a long-winded way of saying maybe.”

That’s not to say Luzardo wouldn’t have a shot at rejoining the A’s rotation if he returns as a reliever, but that rage quit in Call of Duty (or whatever game it was — he wouldn’t divulge!) really stunted his growth in a key season.

Kaprielian has made the most of his two opportunities heading into Wednesday’s matinee against the Mariners and would love an encore of his recent start against the Angels, when he struck out nine while allowing two earned runs in 5 2/3 innings. 

Kappy has some ultra-competitive Chappy-like qualities and will need to be a bulldog once again. With Mike Fiers on the 60-day IL, this rotation spot could be up for grabs for a while.

Where does A.J. Puk fit into all of this? The lanky lefty struggled in his second-straight AAA appearance Tuesday by giving up four earned runs on four hits in 1 1/3 innings. He could be destined to stay in Vegas until he figures it out.