Had the Oakland A's advanced to the second round of the playoffs last season, there was a good possibility that their rotation would have been without Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin. Parker experienced forearm soreness during his Game Three start versus Detroit in the ALDS, and he had been deemed likely to miss the League Championship Series had the A's gotten that far. Griffin was scratched from the A's ALDS rotation with elbow soreness and his status for round two was also in doubt.
Justin Verlander's masterful performance in Game Five of the ALDS kept the A's from experiencing a Parker/Griffin-less rotation. However, it now looks like the A's will be facing that scenario at the start of the 2014 season. On Friday, the A's announced that Parker would be visiting Dr. James Andrews on Monday and that Griffin would see Dr. Doug Freedberg in Scottsdale on Friday. Both pitchers have struggled with their velocity in their most recent starts. Parker has forearm soreness and Griffin has elbow discomfort. Parker had Tommy John surgery in 2009 when he was with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Even if both injuries wind-up being minor, the A's are likely to be without both pitchers on Opening Day, as it is likely that both would need some rest and rehab. While no team prepares for losing two-fifths of their starting rotation during spring training, the A's are in a decent position to cover those losses, all things considered.
Coming into camp, the A's had a glut of starting pitchers with major-league experience and that was likely by design, given the way that both Parker and Griffin finished the 2013 season physically. In addition to those two, the A's have Scott Kazmir, Sonny Gray, Dan Straily, Tommy Milone, Jesse Chavez, Drew Pomeranz, Josh Lindblom and Philip Humber in camp with significant experience as major league starters. Humber has been used as a reliever in camp, but the others should be able to be ready to start at the beginning of the season. Prospect Arnold Leon has also had a strong camp, and he will start one of the split-squad games on Saturday.
The obvious front-runners to take the place of Parker and Griffin are Milone and Chavez. Milone has been part of the A's rotation for most of the past two seasons. Although he struggled for some of the second-half of last year, Milone still finished the 2013 season with a 4.14 ERA in 156.1 innings. He allowed 25 homers, but he had a 126:39 K:BB. Milone has been up-and-down this spring, and he has a 6.00 ERA in nine innings.
Chavez has been used as a long reliever by the A's at the major-league level, but he has been a starter for most of his career in the minor and major leagues. He has been brilliant in camp thus far. After a Thursday night outing of four scoreless innings, Chavez has a 0.00 ERA in 12.2 innings this spring. He has 12 strike-outs and just two walks. The A's have always liked Chavez's talent and believed that he just lacked confidence at the big league level.
A's minor league pitching coordinator Scott Emerson talked about Chavez last season.
"Last year  and this year  – I got to see him early in the season – the confidence for him is there in Triple-A," Emerson said last May. "He has all of the weapons to be a good major league pitcher. He can sink it. He has a good top-to-bottom breaking ball. He has a good change-up. It's just a matter of him going out there and knowing that he has that good stuff to challenge those big league hitters."
Chavez spent much of the 2013 season in the A's bullpen, and he had several key long relief outings for the A's. In 57.1 innings, Chavez had a 3.92 ERA and a 55:20 K:BB with Oakland in 2013. In five starts with the River Cats, Chavez had a 2.70 ERA and a 26:5 K:BB in 30 innings. Chavez is out-of-options and he was almost a sure-bet to make the A's 25-man roster at the start of the regular season even before the injuries to Griffin and Parker.
Pomeranz, acquired for Brett Anderson this off-season, has been a starter almost exclusively during his pro career (he came out of the bullpen during the final weeks of the 2013 season). The talented left-hander has a 6.23 ERA in 4.1 innings this spring. He is likely to get a few more extended outings in the next week or two, although he is likely to start the year in the Triple-A Sacramento rotation.
Lindblom has mostly been a reliever at the big league level, but he has been a starter in the minor leagues. The big right-hander has allowed 10 hits and three walks in 8.2 innings this spring, although his ERA is 3.12.
The injuries to Griffin and Parker have ramifications beyond the A's starting rotation. Leon has yet to make his major-league debut, although he could find himself taking over Chavez's long relief role should the A's decide they want someone with 'length' in their bullpen. Leon has been brilliant thus far this spring. The right-hander, who had Tommy John surgery in 2010, has allowed just three base-runners in seven innings thus far. Leon had a 4.13 ERA in 144 innings with Midland and Sacramento last season.
If Chavez moves into the A's starting rotation, his spot in the bullpen could go either to Evan Scribner (who is also out-of-options), Leon or left-hander Joe Savery. A's set-up man Ryan Cook has yet to appear in a Cactus League game due to shoulder soreness. If he isn't ready for Opening Day, two of those three pitchers could make the A's bullpen.
At the minor-league level, the injuries to Griffin and Parker are likely to open at least one spot in the Sacramento starting rotation. Before the injuries to Griffin and Parker, the River Cats' projected rotation included Milone, Leon, Pomeranz, Lindblom and Andrew Werner. If both Milone and Leon make the A's roster, that could open rotation spots for starters who pitched well for Double-A Midland last season such as Sean Murphy, Murphy Smith and Zach Neal, or minor league free agent signee Matt Buschmann. The A's could move Humber back into a starter's role, as well.