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Bassitt among arms seeking spot in A's rotation

Athletics open camp with only 2 starting pitchers locked into role
MLB.com @JaneMLB

MESA, Ariz. -- A hodgepodge of arms will be in competition for three open rotation spots in A's camp this spring. There are the assumed favorites, and then others.

Right-hander Chris Bassitt understands why he falls into the latter category, but the Tommy John patient is determined to change some minds.

MESA, Ariz. -- A hodgepodge of arms will be in competition for three open rotation spots in A's camp this spring. There are the assumed favorites, and then others.

Right-hander Chris Bassitt understands why he falls into the latter category, but the Tommy John patient is determined to change some minds.

"I want him to think that way," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "Whether or not there are enough innings to look at him as a starter, we're not sure yet. We'll see how camp goes. He's one of those guys that maybe is a tweener guy. Maybe early on, look at him more in a relief-type role, and then look into potentially building him up. But I want him to think that way, because he's quite a competitor and a couple years ago was one of the guys we were looking at, and injuries have kind of taken a toll on him here recently."

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Bassitt, 21 months removed from Tommy John surgery, is hoping to regain the form that made him one of Oakland's up-and-comers in 2015, when he posted a 3.56 ERA in 18 games (13 starts). His post-surgery performance -- he compiled a 5.33 ERA in 24 Minor League games last season -- doesn't exactly give him a leg up on his competition, but the A's will watch him closely this spring.

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"I think we still need to see how Chris bounces back," A's general manager David Forst said. "He's sort of got a mulligan on the year last year, still working on his recovery and pitching out of the bullpen in Triple-A. It'll ultimately depend on how many innings we can get him here, whether we can get him stretched out. I think we believe Chris can be effective in some role on the Major League staff, we're not sure yet where."

Forst and Co. opted not to include Bassitt on last year's September callups list -- a decision the pitcher said was prudent.

"Obviously it stunk that I didn't get called up, but at the same time I completely agreed with it," he said. "I wasn't ready. I needed time off. I think the rest in September, that extra month, is going to pay huge dividends coming into this year."

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Last year, Bassitt said, "I didn't know who was showing up to the ballpark day to day, and that was the most frustrating thing for me, was I didn't know if it was the guy who was throwing 93-35 [mph] or the guy throwing 86-87. I couldn't tell until I was out there throwing, and then it was just such a mental battle all year. It was frustrating mentally, physically, feeling the ups and downs of everything."

Only Kendall Graveman and Sean Manaea are considered rotation locks, leaving three spots for more than three candidates: Jharel Cotton, Daniel Mengden, Paul Blackburn, Daniel Gossett and Andrew Triggs headline the list.

Among them, Cotton and Gossett logged the most innings last year, but they were both done in by the long ball, surrendering a combined 49 in 220 1/3 innings. Mengden battled through two injuries that cost him more than three months of the season, but he rebounded to post a 1.54 ERA in five second-half starts. Melvin said Mengden "fits into the third spot ... based on performance at the end of last year, but that's as we're sitting here right now."

Video: A's possible starting rotation heading into 2018

Blackburn and Triggs also succumbed to injury, and at unfortunate times. Blackburn was riding a 3.22 ERA when he suffered a deep bone bruise in his right hand during a start in late August. Triggs, meanwhile, made just 12 starts before his fledgling career as a starter was halted by left hip surgery. Both were mostly excellent when healthy, and they'll have to prove such stretches were no fluke.

"All these guys have pitched well at times," Forst said. "No one has put together a lengthy enough stretch of performance or health to really cement themselves in, so we do need to figure some of those things out."

Added Melvin: "There are questions, but especially with a young group you want competition in camp. You don't want guys coming in here thinking, 'This job is mine.' They know they have to go out and perform."

Jane Lee has covered the A's for MLB.com since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB and listen to her podcast.

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