Blue Jays-Athletics Preview
(AP) - The beginning of July's first blockbuster trade occurred about a month ago, when Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane called Chicago Cubs executive Theo Epstein to ask about Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.
Beane told Epstein he liked the starting pitchers, and he was going to be aggressive in an attempt to improve the AL West leaders. Fast forward to Saturday, when Beane proved just how serious he was during that initial call.
Samardzija will make his A's debut Sunday as he faces a Toronto Blue Jays team that may be without Edwin Encarnacion as it hopes to avoid a four-game sweep in Oakland.
''The deal speaks for itself. To pick up two guys like that in early June is pretty fantastic,'' manager Bob Melvin said. ''We wanted more options and saw the urgency to get it done. This makes us better.''
The Athletics (54-33) have the best record in baseball and lead the AL with a 3.16 ERA, but Beane felt he needed to add depth to a rotation that responded well to season-ending injuries for Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin. Drew Pomeranz also is on the disabled list with a broken right hand.
Samardzija and Hammel, who will start Wednesday, join Scott Kazmir and Sonny Gray in one of the majors' best sets of starters. The A's had to give up plenty to get them, though, sending top prospect Addison Russell, 2013 first-round pick Billy McKinney and Dan Straily to Chicago.
''We had to dig into our depth really early, and we felt like we needed two (starting pitchers),'' Beane said.
The hard-throwing Samardzija had a 2-7 record for the Cubs, but he also had a 2.83 ERA and 103 strikeouts in 108 innings, making him one of the most coveted pitchers on the market.
The right-hander last pitched June 28 when he gave up six runs - five earned - and seven hits in five innings of a 7-2 loss to Washington.
''Jeff has been a bit of workhorse,'' Beane said. ''He's got a perfect health record. He's a guy that continues to develop. He's gotten better and better each year he goes out.''
Samardzija will look to help his new team complete the sweep after the A's beat the Blue Jays 5-1 on Saturday. Josh Donaldson homered for Oakland, which has limited Toronto to two runs in the series.
The struggling Blue Jays (47-42) may have even more trouble generating offense if Encarnacion has to miss extended time. He left Saturday's contest with a right quad injury trying to beat out a double-play ball in the first inning.
Adam Lind took the place of Encarnacion, who has 26 homers and is tied for the major league lead with 70 RBIs.
''I wouldn't guess it'd be a quick thing,'' manager John Gibbons said. ''He'll get an MRI (Sunday) or the next day and we'll have a little better idea. He said he felt something pop in his quad. That's all I know right now.''
Toronto will look to bounce back as they hand the ball to Drew Hutchison, who is coming off one of his best outings of the season.
Hutchison (6-6, 3.81 ERA) gave up one run and struck out a career-high 10 in seven innings of a 4-1 win over Milwaukee on Tuesday. He allowed eight runs over 10 1-3 innings while losing his previous two starts.
"I know Hutch pretty good, (and) when he's on, he's on," Gibbons said. "He has that knack of working out of some jams, and I thought (Tuesday) his fastball was really good."
The right-hander has never faced the A's, who have won eight of their last nine at home.