Programming note: A’s Insider Joe Stiglich is in Arizona; check back for his coverage throughout spring training and watch SportsNet Central nightly at 6 and 10:30 p.m. for all the day’s MLB news.
PHOENIX – The worst-case scenario played out Monday for right-hander Jarrod Parker and the Oakland A’s.
A visit to Dr. James Andrews revealed that Parker needs a second reconstructive surgery on his right elbow, which will sideline him for the entire 2014 season. It’s a major blow for the two-time defending American League West champion A’s, who had Parker lined up as a potential ace of this year’s rotation.
Coupled with an elbow injury that will keep right-hander A.J. Griffin out several weeks, the A’s are scrambling after entering spring training with one of the league’s deepest pitching staffs.
As if that wasn’t enough, lefty Scott Kazmir was scratched from Monday’s exhibition start with stiffness in his left triceps. A’s assistant general manager David Forst was quick to downplay that injury as minor, saying Kazmir was visiting a local orthopedist as a precaution and could take the mound as soon as Tuesday or Wednesday.
But there’s no denying that Oakland has major issues with its rotation with Opening Day exactly two weeks away.
“The first thing is you feel bad for Jarrod,” Forst said. “He worked hard this offseason and was hoping to be at the top of the rotation this year. We can only play the hand we’re dealt. We spent a lot of time putting together pitching depth coming into the year and some guys are gonna have to step up.”
The first pitchers in line are left-hander Tommy Milone and right-hander Jesse Chavez.
Chavez is slated to start Tuesday for the A’s against the Chicago White Sox. With that, Oakland’s five-man rotation materializes. The current rotation would have Gray going Opening Night followed by some order of Kazmir, Jesse Chavez, Dan Straily and Tommy Milone
Forst said there are no current plans to acquire pitching help from outside the organization.
Melvin has yet to officially announce his Opening Night starter, saying he was hitting until after Parker’s appointment with Andrews in Pensacola, Fla.
Parker underwent his first reconstructive elbow procedure – known commonly as “Tommy John” surgery, where the ulnar collateral ligament is replaced – in October 2009 while he was a minor leaguer with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He missed the entire 2010 season recovering.
The procedure is extremely common with pitchers now, with the timetable for recovery generally between 12 and 18 months. A full recovery from a second procedure is less certain, but more and more pitchers are undergoing a second “Tommy John” these days.
Two Atlanta Braves pitchers, Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, appear headed for a second procedure. In fact, both pitchers were scheduled to see Andrews on Monday along with Parker.
Former Giants closer Brian Wilson is one notable example of a pitcher who successfully came back from two “Tommy John” surgeries. He was throwing his fastball at around 93 miles per hour last season coming out of the Los Angeles Dodgers bullpen.
Parker’s surgery is set for March 25 and will be performed by Andrews.
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“There are a lot more data points now than were a handful of year ago” regarding multiple Tommy John procedures, Forst said. “Just in the last week this has come up a number of times. It’s hard to predict right now. We don’t know what the recovery rate is on guys with a second Tommy John. But unfortunately, it’s becoming more frequent.”
The A’s are about to find out just how much they can rely on their considerable pitching depth.
Chavez, a six-year veteran who has started just two games in his 191 career appearances, will get the opportunity to prove he can get the job done every fifth day.
“Jesse Chavez is a guy who really came into his own last year for us in numerous roles. He’s had a terrific spring,” Melvin said Monday morning, before the Parker news broke.
Chavez has yet to allow a run over 12 2/3 innings in four games (two starts). The A’s obtained him from Toronto for cash in August 2012 and he served primarily as a long reliever last season. He shined last season in an 18-inning victory over the New York Yankees, when he threw 5 2/3 shutout innings to close out the game and earn the victory.
“From that point on, we weren’t afraid to use him in any type of role,” Melvin said. “He’s a guy we’ve always targeted, because of his stuff and repertoire, to start. Now he’s getting his opportunity.”
Milone will throw in a minor league game Thursday, when the A’s are off, to get in his work and stay on turn.
With Parker and Griffin out, it’s imperative the A’s have a healthy Kazmir. The veteran lefty, signed to a two-year $22 million contract in the winter, saw Phoenix-based specialist Dr. Doug Freedberg on Monday for his triceps stiffness.
“Scott’s injury is very minor,” Forst said. “There’s no reason to push the issue. We think there’s probably a chance he pitches either (Tuesday) or the next day. This is strictly muscle tightness right now until we hear something otherwise.”
The A’s appeared to have so much pitching depth in the winter that they felt comfortable trading lefty Brett Anderson to Colorado. Now their remaining rotation depth is about to be tested in a big way. After Milone and Chavez, the A’s likely would turn to right-hander Josh Lindblom, lefty Drew Pomeranz (obtained in the Anderson trade) or minor leaguer Arnold Leon.
“We’ve been through enough seasons to know that five starters isn’t going to make it,” Forst said. “In this case, five starters didn’t make it to Opening Day. Hopefully we did enough planning and those guys are ready to step in and be major league starters.”