Healthy Mengden Would Be Bonus Asset for Athletics in 100-Game Season

John Hickey

It was well established that the Oakland A’s came into the 2020 season with an abundance of starting pitching.

Bonus.

Then they lost right-hander Daniel Mengden, a borderline candidate for the fifth starter’s job, to an arthroscopic elbow surgery in February and left-hander A.J. Puk to shoulder tightness in the first week of March. But Oakland has Chris Bassitt, who made 25 starts and won 10 games last year, so he could step in as needed and Bassitt was on track to be in the starting rotation come season’s start.

And then the COVID-19 pandemic struck. The final 10 games of the Cactus League were canceled as was the March 26 season opener. We’re in May now, just days away from June, and there’s still no baseball.

There is, however, lots of starting pitching in green-and-gold. Puk made it clear in April that he was going to be good to go, and this last week we’ve learned that Mengden is healthy enough to be a part of whatever season the A’s have, whenever it might be that it starts.

In a conversation with NBC Sports Bay Area, Mengden said that he’s at “about 95 percent” as he recovers from the surgery. So, a man who likely would have begun the season on the 60-day injured list is now likely to take part in whatever form of spring training baseball has if and when it begins.

If the A’s camp were to have started this weekend, Mike Fiers likely would have been the opening day starter, followed by Sean Manaea, Frankie Montas, A.J. Puk and Jesus Luzardo rounding out the rotation. Bassitt and Mengden provide depth at a minimum, but perhaps more than that.

The Major League Baseball Players Association is expected to get back to the owners in a day or two with a counteroffer to the owners’ latest plan. And one of the elements the players are expected to suggest is a season that would call for 100 or more games instead of the 82 the owners have put forward.

For a season that probably couldn’t start much before the Fourth of July holiday, that likely would mean very few days off and lots of doubleheaders.

And having Bassitt and Mengden available to start would make it easy for A’s manager Bob Melvin to go with a six-man rotation. There wouldn’t be many rotations in either league that could offer the same level of depth, so the A’s, winners of 97 games each of the last two seasons, might have a built-in advantage should a 100-plus game season materialize.

Mengden told NBC Sports Bay Area that he had two other medical procedures over the offseason, both of which dealt with a previously undiagnosed intestinal problem. Mengden had struggled through the 2019 season, at one point losing 25 pounds.

“My doctor thinks it was some sort of tapeworm that was eating away at me,” Mengden said. “I don’t know if you saw me [in Arizona], or if I looked a little smaller. Right about spring training I was on the climb back up.”

He was still a bit underweight in spring training, but the extended time off has allowed the 27-year-old to get his size and strength back.

There will be more pressure on him this time around, however. He’s out of options, so he has to make the roster or risk being lost to another organization. But with rosters, which were going to be at 26 players, likely now being expanded to 30, that eases the pressure.

Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3

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