It didn't look good for Oakland A's RHP Fernando Rodriguez when he came off of the mound on Tuesday clutching his right elbow. On Thursday, the A's confirmed the severity of the injury, which is a tear of the UCL in his right elbow. The injury was first reported by John Hickey of the Oakland Tribune on Wednesday evening. Rodriguez has will get a second opinion on the elbow, but it is likely that he will have to undergo Tommy John surgery. The surgery would keep him out for the entire 2013 season.
Even if Rodriguez is spared the Tommy John recommendation, he will still likely miss a significant amount of time with the injury. The injury is a blow to the A's bullpen depth. Rodriguez was acquired by Oakland from Houston along with Jed Lowrie to bolster the A's middle- to late-inning relief depth. A's closer Grant Balfour has also missed time this spring with a knee injury, and it still remains to be seen whether he will be ready for Opening Day.
Assuming Balfour is ready on Opening Day, he is one of four relievers with locks on roster spots (Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle and Jerry Blevins being the other three). With Rodriguez sidelined, there are now three spots open in the A's ‘pen. Right-hander Pat Neshek is out of options and he is a favorite to win one of those three spots. The sidearmer has had a solid spring. In 5.1 innings, Neshek has yet to allow a run and he has allowed two hits and a walk, while striking out four.
Left-hander Travis Blackley is out of options and is another favorite for a spot, thanks to his ability to work in several different roles (starter, long reliever and lefty specialist). Blackley has struggled this spring, however, coughing up 13 hits and 11 runs in only 4.2 innings. He has walked three and struck-out four.
Right-hander Chris Resop is also out of options. The veteran was acquired this off-season from the Pittsburgh Pirates and he could be pitching his way ahead of Blackley on the depth chart. Resop, who like Blackley can work in several different roles, has thrown five scoreless innings this spring. He has allowed three hits and no walks and he has struck-out four.
Left-hander Jordan Norberto got off to a slow start this spring, but he has pitched better in his last two outings. He has struck-out five in 3.2 innings, but he has allowed seven hits and four runs. Norberto missed the final few months of last season with a shoulder injury. He has options remaining.
Fellow southpaw Pedro Figueroa rode a strong spring last season to a spot in the Sacramento Opening Day bullpen and an early season big league call-up. He is repeating his spring effectiveness this year, pounding the strike-zone. In 7.2 innings, he has yet to walk a batter and he has struck-out seven while allowing one run. Figueroa may have the best fastball-slider combination of any reliever in A's camp, but throwing strikes has sometimes been an issue for Figueroa historically. If Figueroa continues to command his pitches, he will be hard to keep out of the A's bullpen.
Evan Scribner played an important role for the A's last season, even though he shuttled back-and-forth between the A's and Sacramento. Scribner is pitching well again this spring. He has allowed two runs in five innings, but he has six strike-outs against one walk.
Veteran non-roster invitees Hideki Okajima, Mike Ekstrom, Brian Gordon and Garrett Olson are trying to pitch their way into the conversation, as well. Okajima had four scoreless outings to start his spring before allowing runs in each of his last two appearances. Ekstrom has seven strike-outs in 8.2 innings pitched and has allowed two runs. Gordon has allowed only two earned runs in 5.1 innings, but he has given up three unearned runs and he has yet to strike-out a batter. Olson struggled with a hamstring injury early in camp and he is still being stretched out. He has only had 3.2 innings worth of work thus far and he has allowed two runs, although he has yet to walk a batter. All four have major league experience.
Steven Hill Retires
Over the off-season, the A's selected catcher/first baseman Steven Hill during the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft. Hill won't be playing for the A's or for Triple-A Sacramento this season, however. According to A's Assistant GM David Forst, Hill retired before the start of spring training.
The Stephen F. Austin University alum had spent his entire career in the St. Louis Cardinals organization before the A's took him in the Rule 5 draft. Hill, a 13th-round pick in 2007, made his major league debut in 2010, hitting a homer in three at-bats. He appeared in nine games for St. Louis last season, collecting two hits in 10 at-bats. For Triple-A Memphis, Hill batted .266/.326/.488 with 17 homers in 87 games.
Hill's retirement opens a spot in Triple-A at catcher in the A's organization. The A's currently have 13 catchers in minor league camp and non-roster invitees David Freitas and Luke Montz remain in big league camp. Of those 15 catchers, only Montz has significant experience at the Triple-A level. However, Freitas, Ryan Lipkin and Ryan Ortiz all have significant experience at the Double-A level and those three figure to be the favorites for the second catcher spot on the Sacramento roster. Beau Taylor, who spent the final six weeks of last season in Double-A, could also factor into that conversation.
Other News And Notes
– Over the off-season, it was reported that the A's had signed RHP Yeiper Castillo. Castillo isn't in spring training with the A's, and there is a good reason as to why: he never actually signed with the club. The former Boston Red Sox farmhand is, in fact, in camp with the Chicago Cubs.
– One signing that is official is that of infielder Antonio Lamas, who inked a deal with the A's in late February. Lamas played mostly second base last season in the Mexican Summer and Winter Leagues, but he has experience playing all over the diamond. Lamas turned 23 in December and had a break-through season in Mexico last summer, when he hit .336/.386/.523 with 15 homers in 113 games. With the A's depth at second base in big league camp, the 5'9'' Lamas may start the season in Double-A.
– Although Michael Ynoa's spring training got off to a rocky start when he missed the first two weeks with a case of chicken pox, the right-hander is on track to be ready for Opening Day. He made his first spring start on Wednesday, pitching for the A's Double-A squad. Ynoa is expected to start the season with Low-A Beloit.
– Jemile Weeks (shoulder) and Michael Taylor (hand) returned to big league game action after nearly two weeks on the shelf. Weeks entered Thursday's game late and went 0-for-2, while Taylor connected on an RBI single in two at-bats.
– Some of the A's top prospects are continuing to pace the team's offense. Grant Green had a hit in his only at-bat on Thursday and he is now batting .450 in 20 at-bats. Shane Peterson also added another hit in his only at-bat in Thursday's game. In 36 at-bats, Peterson is batting .472. David Freitas went 1-for-2 and he is batting .571 in 14 at-bats. Michael Choice went 0-for-1 on Thursday, but he is still batting .351 with nine RBIs in 16 games.