OAKLAND – A’s players were pleased with the message sent by the front office with the trade that delivered starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland.
“It seems like they’re saying, ‘Hey, you guys are right there, we’re gonna give you a little extra to put you over the hump and see if we can’t make a run at this thing,’” closer Sean Doolittle said.
Samardzija was scheduled to arrive at the Coliseum around the start of Saturday night’s game against Toronto. He will make his A’s debut in Sunday afternoon’s series finale. Hammel is expected to show up Sunday and will likely make his first start Wednesday.
That duo, acquired from the Cubs for highly touted shortstop prospect Addison Russell, outfield prospect Billy McKinney and right-hander Dan Straily, is expected to bolster the starting rotation and solidify the A’s as a team that can not only make it to the postseason, but do some damage once they get there.
“We gave up some quality, but it’s just a little further-away type of quality,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “When you’re in a position we are, and you’re striving to make the playoffs, these are the moves teams in our position make. We gave up some (young) guys to try to make us better right now.”
The addition of two new starters to the rotation makes for some roster maneuvering, and Melvin had a tough message to deliver Saturday to lefty Tommy Milone, who was optioned to Triple-A Sacramento despite going 6-0 with a 2.62 ERA over his past 11 starts.
That means Jesse Chavez remains in the rotation alongside a revamped starting staff that includes Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Hammel and Samardzija.
Hammel will slide into Milone’s rotation spot Wednesday. One reason Milone was sent down is because he just pitched Friday, and the A’s wanted to keep a fresh arm in the bullpen for Saturday’s game after Friday’s game went 12 innings. Lefty starter Brad Mills is available out of the bullpen Saturday, and it stands to reason he’s a candidate to be sent down once Hammel is added to the roster Sunday, unless the A’s have another bullpen move in mind.
Regarding Milone, Melvin said: “What do you even say to a guy like that? Not only has he been terrific here the last 10 starts, he’s meant a lot to us for three years now. That on was awful hard. For quite a while I was trying to figure out what I would say to him and really nothing came to mind. He was a little shocked and understandably so, but you haven’t seen the last of Tommy Milone here.”
It’s also clear that one motivation for this trade was the A’s concern over the workload that pitchers such as Gray and Chavez will pile up as the season progresses. Gray is in his first full major league season and Chavez is in his first season as a starter in the majors.
Melvin suggested the A’s will look to rest Gray, for one, periodically in order to keep him fresh down the stretch. Figure that’s an option for Chavez and maybe even Kazmir, who got extra rest at times last season with Cleveland.
“We’re aware that some of our guys, innings-wise, haven’t been to certain levels over the course of the year, so we’ll monitor that,” Melvin said. “Being able to bring in this kind of depth gives us options to do some things a little bit differently if we need to.”
A’s players were also well aware of comments made by Tigers starter Justin Verlander, who has pitched Detroit to Game 5 wins over Oakland in the past two A.L. Division Series. Verlander told Detroit reporters Saturday that he thinks the A’s swung the trade specifically to match up better with the Tigers.
Doolittle chuckled out loud at the suggestion.
Added catcher Stephen Vogt: “I don’t think starting pitching has been the issue for why we got knocked out. To go out and get two guys specifically for one team that we may not even match up with … it is what it is.”