Martínez optioned, but still in A's rotation mix

Righty likely to get reps on Minors side after Classic; CF picture, Waldichuk's start

March 11th, 2023

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- On the surface, the A’s decision to option starting rotation candidate Adrián Martínez to Triple-A Las Vegas this early in camp might seem like a telling indication of where he stands with the team.

Before Oakland’s 4-2 loss to the Guardians on Saturday at Goodyear Ballpark, manager Mark Kotsay provided some clarity on the move. With Martínez currently away from the club as he plays for Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic and uncertainty over how much work he might get in the tournament, the A’s felt that whenever the right-hander does end up returning to camp, his best opportunity to get innings would come in Minor League camp.

“For Adrián, we know what he’s capable of doing,” Kotsay said. “I think building him back up when he gets back from the WBC is probably easier done on the Minor League side. It doesn’t mean that he still can’t be in this rotation. But I think the timeline for him when he returns, to get him back to five- or six-plus innings could be challenging here.”

Martínez began throwing bullpens weeks before the start of Spring Training to prepare for the Classic. He was sharp in his two Cactus League outings with the A’s, going four innings without allowing an earned run on three hits, one walk and three strikeouts.

After Paul Blackburn, Shintaro Fujinami and Drew Rucinski, the A’s rotation picture remains in question. Those in competition for the final two slots include James Kaprielian, Adam Oller, Ken Waldichuk and Kyle Muller.

“This isn’t a send-down where we feel [Martínez] isn’t a part of this group,” Kotsay said. “He’s a part of this group. There’s going to be guys in these next few [roster] trim downs that I’m going to tell are part of our group. They’re going to have an impact on this team this year."

Center field situation

With Esteury Ruiz, JJ Bleday and Cristian Pache all vying for the starting center-field job, deciding which outfielder breaks camp with the club is not a simple process.

Sure, spring performance will be a factor. But what complicates the matter is that Pache is out of Minor League options, while the Ruiz and Bleday still have options remaining. If Pache, who was Oakland’s Opening Day center fielder in 2022, does not make the team out of Spring Training, the A’s would have to risk losing the 24-year-old through waivers.

“It’s tough,” Kotsay said. “It’s not an easy decision. Whatever those decisions are, there’s going to be factors that go into it. Not just performance, but roster construction. Depth of the position. Both Ruiz and JJ have options.

"It’s a great thing, but it’s also a hindrance for them in that they may not get an opportunity to start with this club. But they’re going to impact this club at some point.”

Pache is doing all he can to make that decision difficult. Through nine Cactus League games, he’s 8-for-21 (.381) with one double, one triple and one walk. He also has yet to strike out in 22 plate appearances.

“His zone discipline has improved, for sure,” Kotsay said. “I think he’s doing his best to make the adjustments and get the ball off the ground to the left side of the diamond. That’s been his nemesis -- the ground-ball rate. He’s continuing to work on elevating the baseball.”

Waldichuk’s step forward

After struggles with command prevented him from reaching his targeted innings limit through his first two Cactus League starts, Waldichuk went a bit deeper in his third. Though he surrendered two-run homers in the first and second innings to the Guardians, the left-hander settled down in the third and pitched into the fourth. He allowed four runs on four hits and three walks with one strikeout in 3 1/3 innings.

“I felt like I had more conviction in my stuff,” Waldichuk said. “Figured some stuff out with my pitches in the third and fourth inning. Hoping that I can build that momentum into the next start.”

Waldichuk, ranked as Oakland’s No. 2 prospect by MLB Pipeline, knows the stakes are high as he battles for a rotation spot. Results in each start weigh a bit more heavily than they would under normal circumstances in Spring Training.

“I think [competition] brings out the best of all of us,” Waldichuk said. “But overall, I feel like Spring Training is really just about fine-tuning your stuff so that once the season comes, you’re ready to go out there and put up some numbers.”