Fowler Still Looking for that Breakthrough Moment with A's

John Hickey

Baseball has been played in New York for more than a century, so it’s possible that somewhere along the line someone had a shorter career as a New York Yankee than Dustin Fowler.

No names come readily to mind, however.

Fowler made his Major League debut in pinstripes on June 29, 2017 against the White Sox in Chicago. He was in the starting lineup, batting sixth. He was due up second in the second inning. But in the bottom of the first, right-fielder Fowler went racing toward the stands while trying to run down a foul ball hit by Jose Abreu.

He never got there. He slammed into the wall, suffered an open rupture of the patella tendon in his right knee after hitting an unpadded metal electrical box adjacent to the fence. He tried to remain on his feet, but the severity of the crash made that impossible. Helped off the field by manager Joe Girardi, who was in tears, Fowler would never play another inning for the Yankees.

Those 30 minutes or so would have to stand as his New York career. He never got that first at-bat, making him something of a modern-day Moonlight Graham, if briefly.

“It was brutal,” Fowler said later. “You wouldn’t want that from anyone in their debut. It was a special moment that was taken from me. I was thankful that I was able to come back and get it again. (At the time) you don’t know if you’re ever going to be able to come back or play again. It was such a serious injury. You didn’t know how messed up it would be.”

The Yankees traded him to Oakland that winter – Oakland gave up then-ace Sonny Gray, and Fowler was the centerpiece of a deal that also saw the A’s pick up two other players currently in A’s camp -- pitcher James Kaprielian and infielder/outfielder Jorge Mateo.

Fowler was finally able to get his first Major League at-bat, and 191 more, with the A’s in 2018 with Oakland giving him a chance to be the starting center fielder. It didn’t work as either he or the A’s wished, just a .224/.256/.356 slash line in about half a season.

But Fowler never played an inning in Oakland in 2019 as others, including Ramon Laureano, moved ahead of him. There was some thought that his play had declined.

“In some of his outfield play, you could see there was some hesitancy once he got close to the wall,” manager Bob Melvin said in a morning media scrum this week. “I’m not sure if that was the case or not, but you can understand why. He was on the fast track (in New York). That (injury) set him back quite a bit.”

Now Fowler is in camp now hoping that he can force his was onto a roster that is creditably stocked with outfielders, including Mark Canha, Laureano, Stephen Piscotty, Chad Pinder and DH Khris Davis.

“There are a lot of guys vying for that spot that gives us depth over the course of the season,” manager Bob Melvin in looking at Fowler’s prospects. “I still think Dustin has a lot of upside. He just hasn’t put it all together. We brought him over for a reason in a high-profile trade.

“He got some opportunities early on. At some point in time he’s going to figure it out.”

So far, it’s not going well. Fowler is hitless in his first eight spring at-bats.