Athletics

What has happened to the Jharel Cotton that drew Pedro Martinez comparisons?

What has happened to the Jharel Cotton that drew Pedro Martinez comparisons?

OAKLAND — Jharel Cotton’s latest battle with the Kansas City Royals obviously didn’t go as smoothly as his previous one.

You’ll recall that April afternoon at Kauffman Stadium, when Cotton took the mound before a jam-packed crowd in the Royals’ home opener and handcuffed them over seven innings, surrendering just two hits.

That led Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez to say that Cotton’s stuff reminded him of his own back in the day, a comparison that mushroomed into quite the big story.

Those statements made the A’s rookie gush with pride, and rightly so. But the hype that often swirls around him also has created expectations that don’t always match up with reality.

Monday’s 6-2 loss to the Royals demonstrated how Cotton is still a work-in-progress. He entered the sixth inning having allowed two runs — a solid outing in the works — before loading the bases with one out.

Cotton coaxed a pop-up from Alex Gordon. Then he fell behind 3-0 to No. 9 hitter Cam Gallagher. He fought back to a full count but then caught the inner half of the plate with a pitch Gallagher turned on.

Grand slam — and the A’s wouldn’t recover from that 6-1 deficit.

“It’s frustrating because I couldn’t finish the inning,” Cotton said afterward. “I wanted to get that guy out, that was my chance. I just couldn’t do that. He got a pitch to hit and took advantage of it.”

Before the 2017 season even started, Cotton was the victim of his own small sample size of success. The right-hander looked terrific in five September starts last season, posting a 2.15 ERA and showing command of a variety of pitches.

Suddenly, he was viewed as a potential front-of-the-rotation guy even though the typical bumps in the road inevitably lay ahead, as they do for most rookies. This season has been one of inconsistency, with some success but also plenty of failure.

He was sent to the minors for a short stint in May, then later landed on the disabled list for problems stemming from a blister.

Does he remain in the rotation after Monday’s six-run outing, which increased his ERA to 5.92? His 18 homers allowed are most among American League rookies.

“We’ll see where it goes,” manager Bob Melvin said when asked about Cotton’s status. “We obviously want to challenge him and see how he can do.”

The A’s rotation desperately needs to find some stability. Kendall Graveman showed signs of rounding back into form Sunday, but Sean Manaea is going through a very rough patch himself. Chris Smith has come back down to earth after a string of promising starts. Paul Blackburn, another rookie, has been the steadiest of the bunch lately.

At some point the A’s figure to take another look at Daniel Gossett, who struck out 10 in a sharp outing his last time out for Triple-A Nashville. Cotton made his feelings clear when asked if he maybe could benefit from a break.

“I want to continue to pitch,” he said. “I wanna go out there every five days and pitch for my team. I’ll get out of this funk just by pitching.”

Could Franklin Barreto get a look in center field for A's?

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USATI

Could Franklin Barreto get a look in center field for A's?

Don’t count out top prospect Franklin Barreto as a possibility for the A’s in center field.

It’s long been speculated that the middle infielder might eventually get a look in center, and the idea has at least been discussed in team circles. It’s tied partially to whether the A’s exercise their $6 million club option on Jed Lowrie and bring him back as their regular second baseman in 2018.

Regardless, the battle to be Oakland’s everyday center fielder will be one of the A’s most intriguing storylines next spring. Grady Fuson, a special assistant to general manager David Forst who spends much of the season evaluating the team’s farm system, discussed several of the team’s center field options in the latest A’s Insider Podcast.

So much revolves around the health of 22-year-old Dustin Fowler, one of three prospects the A’s received from the Yankees for Sonny Gray. He’ll spend the winter continuing to rehab from a devastating knee injury suffered in his very first major league game in June while still with New York.

The A’s are hopeful he’ll be ready for spring training and believe he can be a solution in center.

“Fowler certainly is the guy we made this trade for, and I think everybody, top to bottom, in the system is counting on him taking that spot,” Fuson said. “But we all know he’s been hurt. How he comes back, who knows? Boog (Powell’s) been doing a very good job for us. And there’s other options.”

The 21-year-old Barreto, who has split time between second and short this season at Triple-A and with the big club, played some center in the Venezuelan Winter League in 2015. He’s always talked with enthusiasm about the idea.

The A’s experimented with another highly touted young infielder, Yairo Munoz, in center field in the minors this season.

“(We’ve) had discussions about taking Munoz out there, which we’ve done,” Fuson said. “We’ve had discussions about maybe Franklin Barreto, depending on what happens at second here at end of the year, over the winter, and early in camp.”

Lowrie has enjoyed a very strong season with Oakland, and A’s executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane has said the team is seriously considering picking up his option. Having Barreto be an option in center could be a way to keep him in the majors in 2018 even if Lowrie returns at second base.

Fuson stressed that the idea of Barreto in center hasn’t advanced past the early-discussion phase. No decisions have been made.

What’s interesting is that, in a short time, the A’s have gone from scarce few center field options to suddenly having several. Powell and Fowler may enter the spring as front runners, but Munoz, Jaycob Brugman, Chad Pinder, Jake Smolinski and, perhaps, Barreto may all have a shot too.

The A’s also used their first-round pick in June on high school center fielder Austin Beck, who represents another option down the road.

Bob Melvin provides update on Bruce Maxwell after 'pretty good shot' to face

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USATSI

Bob Melvin provides update on Bruce Maxwell after 'pretty good shot' to face

A's catcher Bruce Maxwell has a history with foul tips and concussion concerns, so there was cause for concern after he took a direct shot during Wednesday's game against the Tigers.

With one out in the ninth inning, Tigers shortstop fouled a ball square into Maxwell's facemask. The A's catcher immediately fell backwards. As manager Bob Melvin and the team trainer checked on him, he appeared dazed and rubbed his eyes. In an attempt to try to stay in the game, reliever Liam Hendriks tossed two warmup pitches. Maxwell missed the first one, but even after he caught the second one, it was clear he wasn't right and was removed from the game.

Afterwards, Melvin was asked about Maxwell's status.

"He went through all the protocol. It doesn't look like a concussion at this point. We'll probably know more in the next couple of days," Melvin told reporters in Detroit. "Took a pretty good shot. More sore on his face because of where the impact was, which was right in the middle of his face."

Josh Phegley replaced Maxwell for the final two outs of the game. Hendriks managed to close out the 3-2 win for the A's.