With so much pitching depth in 2016, the A’s made the right decision in demoting Jesse Hahn
Tuesday the Oakland Athletics announced that they had optioned right-handed starter Jesse Hahn to Triple-A Nashville, making lefty Felix Doubront the fifth starter in the A’s rotation. This was the right move for the A’s to make at this time.
The move also opened up a spot in the bullpen for rookie Ryan Dull who impressed as a call-up last September and again this spring. This spring Dull hasn’t allowed a run in 8 ⅓ innings while striking out 10 and walking only one batter. He has allowed just two hits this month.
Dull will join Fernando Rodriguez in the back of the A’s bullpen. Like Dull, Rodriguez has been virtually unhittable this spring, allowing just one run in 10 ⅓ innings while compiling 13 strikeouts without giving up a walk.
Together the two should be able to combine to give the A’s the same number of innings as Doubront would have had he been slated to start the season in the A’s ‘pen as their long reliever.
However, don’t expect this or any pitching situation to last too long. The 2016 A’s have quite a bit of pitching depth to work with and manager Bob Melvin has said that he’d be “shocked” if Hahn wasn’t back in the starting rotation “really soon.”
Hahn had been struggling with his command all spring having posted an ERA of 10.97 through 10.2 innings, allowing 16 hits and 13 earned runs over that span.
He was struggling to keep his sinker down, his fastball was just a bit off and he’d stopped being able to throw his curveball for strikes. Hahn compensated by trying to get strikes using his changeup, which, when used correctly – to get the batter to make weak contact with the ball – is an above-average pitch. It was however not effective when Hahn attempted to use it as his go-to strikeout pitch.
There could be a number of reasons for Hahn’s issues ranging from something as simple as the weather in Arizona to the fact that he hadn’t pitched since July 1 of last year. He was shut down early due to a forearm strain.
Shutting Hahn down was a smart move for the Athletics at the time given their record in 2015. Hahn is a Tommy John surgery survivor and there was no need to push him with the team so far out of contention. Hahn had actually pitched very well for Oakland through the end of June.
In 16 starts for the A’s in 2015 Hahn had just three starts in which he allowed more than four runs. He pitched a complete game shutout against the Detroit Tigers on May 25th and ended his season with a six-inning outing on July 1 in which he allowed just four hits and one run while striking out six. His ERA on the year was 3.35.
That was the pitcher the A’s expected to see this spring. It is the pitcher they are hoping to see again after a short stint with their Triple-A minor league affiliate, the Nashville Sounds. As soon as they do see the early 2015 Hahn again he will be right back in the A’s rotation.
Yet when Hahn returns the A’s will have quite a few decisions to make. Doubront is out of options and therefore cannot be send to the minor leagues. While Doubront hasn’t had as good of a spring as Ryan Dull, it’s likely Dull could be ousted from the bullpen due to the fact that he still has options.
Although a lot of these potential moves depend on the performance of veteran lefty Rich Hill and the health of young right-hander Henderson Alvarez. Alvarez is currently recovering from shoulder surgery and is scheduled to return to the mound as part of the starting rotation in early May.
As part of his contract when Hill signed with Oakland, he was guaranteed a spot in the A’s rotation – but only to start the season. Hill has a long history of injuries and has been wild this spring, walking more batters than he has struck out.
Hill made a brilliant comeback from one of his many injuries last season with the Boston Red Sox. He made four unbelievably great starts which are what earned him his spot in the A’s rotation this coming Monday. If that is the Rich Hill the A’s see on the mound during the regular season then there is a chance Doubront could be released by the club.
That however, that scenario is actually not exactly likely because the team should continue to worry about the health of all their starters with the exception of Gray. Kendall Graveman, Chris Bassitt and Hahn each spent time on the disabled list last year and there are no guarantees that either Hill or Alvarez will remain healthy and at the top of their game.
A more likely game plan seems like it would be to either keep Doubront in the rotation if Hill, Hahn or Alvarez were to falter or move him back to the bullpen in case of an injury to one of the aforementioned players. This would then, of course, relieve Dull of his position with the club.
In the event of multiple injuries (or just poor performance) to the starting staff the A’s also have their top pitching prospect, left-hander Sean Manaea, who has had a strong spring but only has 39 minor league starts under his belt. Vice president of baseball operations for the A’s, Billy Beane, has said that it is likely that the team will see Manaea at some point in 2016.
Beane is not worried about Manaea’s service time or contractual obligations to the team, he’s only worried about whether or not bringing Manaea up so early in his professional career would hurt him as a player.
Beane doesn’t believe that will be an issue given Manaea’s swift development since joining the A’s organization last summer in the trade that sent super-utility man Ben Zobrist to the Kansas City Royals.
For more on what could happen with the A’s pitching staff in 2016 you can continue reading my column on Today’s Knuckleball by following the link below: