Oakland Athletics starting pitchers Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin are both likely to miss the start of the regular season with arm injuries, according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. Parker's problem is described as "forearm tightness," whereas Griffin is dealing with elbow discomfort, via Slusser. There is no word yet on whether either pitcher will require surgery.
The 25-year-old Parker was expected to be the Athletics' Opening Day starter this year. He was one of Oakland's top hurlers last season, posting a 3.97 ERA in 197 innings. While those overall numbers were somewhat pedestrian (94 ERA+), they were bogged down by a poor start to the year (7.34 ERA in first seven starts) and a poor performance in his final start after the team had already clinched the AL West (seven runs in 4⅓ innings). In between those two endpoints, he went 11-2 with a 2.96 ERA in 158⅓ innings over 24 starts.
However, Parker experienced problems with his forearm at the end of the season and in the playoffs. He threw only 73 pitches in Game 3 of the ALDS against Detroit, and there were rumors that he would be left off the ALCS roster if the team made it that far. The hope was that an offseason of rest would fix the problem, but that doesn't appear to have worked. The right-hander will visit Dr. James Andrews, which is bad news for A's fans; phrases like "forearm tightness" and "visit Dr. Andrews" are often precursors to Tommy John surgery. Parker had a Tommy John procedure in 2009 while a member of the Diamondbacks' farm system.
Griffin, meanwhile, was visibly off in his start against the Rockies last night. His fastball, which usually averages around 89 mph, was in the mid-80s, a problem that he initially attributed to a case of early-season dead arm. Like Parker, Griffin also ran out of steam at the end of the 2013 campaign; he was left off of the ALDS roster in favor of Dan Straily due to tendinitis in his elbow. He was effective during the regular season, though, posting a 3.83 ERA (97 ERA+) in exactly 200 innings despite allowing an MLB-leading 36 home runs.
Losing a pair of starting pitchers just two weeks before Opening Day is a crippling blow, but the A's are as well-prepared as any team to withstand it. Oakland has built up a lot of pitching depth, and Slusser reports that Tommy Milone and Jesse Chavez are the most likely candidates to join Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir and Straily in the rotation. Milone made 57 starts for the club over the last two years and posted a combined 3.92 ERA (97 ERA+) overall while striking out 3.51 batters for every walk. The 27-year-old is best-known as a soft-tossing, junkball-throwing lefty, but he is certainly overqualified for Triple-A and shouldn't represent a big drop-off from Griffin.
Chavez is more of a question mark, though. After bouncing around the majors for several seasons, the right-hander established himself as the long-man in Oakland's bullpen in 2013. He entered the year with a 5.99 ERA in 156 major league games, but he posted a 3.92 mark in 57⅓ innings last season with solid peripheral stats to back it up. He's been even better this spring, having tossed 12⅔ shutout innings with 12 strikeouts and only two walks. His career resurgence is most commonly attributed to the addition of a cut fastball that he began throwing in 2012; Chavez threw the pitch 41.6 percent of the time last year, and Fangraphs rated it as his most valuable offering overall. He has made only two starts in his major league career, so this will be relatively uncharted territory for the 30-year-old.
If either Milone or Chavez should falter, or if there are more injuries to the staff, then the next starters on the depth chart are Drew Pomeranz and Josh Lindblom. The left-handed Pomeranz was acquired from the Rockies during the offseason for Brett Anderson, while the right-handed Lindblom came over from the Rangers in the deal for prospect Michael Choice. The A's also sport one of the best and deepest bullpens in the league, and that strength should help offset any weaknesses in the rotation.