A 60-game season is testing some of the tried-and-true practices of Major League Baseball. Or at least, it seems that it will once things get going. Teams are due to report for Spring Training II next weekend.
At least two teams in the American League West, the Mariners and the Angels, are close to committing to go with six-man starting rotations. In the National League, the Braves and the Dodgers are taking the six-man idea under consideration.
There are reasons for it, not the least of which is the fact that Spring Training II will see Major League teams get about three weeks’ worth of workouts. Those 20-some days will be a little less than half of what starting pitchers would normally get, and spring training is all about getting starting pitchers stretched out.
One team that absolutely, positively not going in the six-man direction is the Oakland A’s. Manager Bob Melvin likes the concept of a five-man grouping. In his first year as manager in 2003 in Seattle, the same five guys – Freddie Garcia, Jamie Moyer, Ryan Franklin, Gil Meche and Joel Pineiro – made every start.
It’s not just history that sways Melvin, though. With the 2020 A’s, Melvin has a rotation he sees as being built for success – Mike Fiers, Sean Manaea, Frankie Montas, Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk.
“At this point, I don’t see us going with a six-man rotation,” Melvin said. “It’s a three-week spring training, and we have to build them up, and we’re not going to be expecting them to throw complete games the first time out.
“Our guys have been throwing. Yes, they’ve been smart about it and they’ve been social distancing and all that, and we haven’t had our camp open like some other teams have. But we’ve got our five all healthy. We like what we got.”
Texas manager Chris Woodward said the Rangers had considered the six-man option, “but we are going to stick with five for now,” he said. His group – Corey Kluber, Mike Minor, Lance Lynn, Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles – are a team strength. Texas does have options.
“It all depends on the health of our starters,” Woodward said. “If one of them goes down, if we don’t like what we see, we can build in other days because we will have a bigger roster. There will be some off-days early … so I’m not worried (about needing a sixth starter).”
In Anaheim, manager Joe Maddon has a history of bucking the curve, so going to a six-man rotation isn’t that much of a surprise. In the case, he has a reason – outfielder/starter Shohei Ohtani. After needing Tommy John surgery in 2018, Ohtani is back, and Maddon wants to have him start once a week and play in the outfield four days a week.
That’s the impetus for Maddon deciding that a six-man rotation is the Angels’ 2020 ideal. He’ll be going with Andrew Heaney, Julio Teheran, Dylan Bundy, Griffin Canning and Patrick Sandoval to supplement Ohtani.
Up in Seattle, general manager Jerry DiPoto says the Mariners will use the six-man rotation as a twin weapon. It’ll be used to manage the innings of the younger members of the staff while at the same time giving evaluation time for pitchers in the organization whose best years will probably be in the future.
Marco Gonzales and Yusei Kikuchi, both lefties, will be at the top end of the Seattle rotation, and Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn will likely be in the six. Former A’s starter Kendall Graveman and former Mariner Taijuan Walker are likely to make up the other spots, at least to start the season.
Back in the dark days of 2012 and 2013, the Astros toyed with a six-man rotation. They’ve since morphed into the three-time AL West champions, and they’ve done it on the strength of a five-man rotation. And even though the Astros lost Gerrit Cole, who was 20-5 last year, the five-man set won’t be changing.
Justin Verlander, Zach Greinke, Lance McCullers and Jose Urquidy make the Houston top four. Pitching coach Brent Strom told Astros media this week that Austin Pruitt, Josh James and Framber Valdez will be the contestants for the fifth-start spot. Brad Peacock, who started 15 of his 23 games last year, could be an option, but he appears to be headed to the bullpen.
Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3
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