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Rotation hopefuls don't help own causes

Starter candidates Blackburn, Mengden struggle in appearances; Buchter weighs in on bullpen carts
MLB.com @alysonfooter

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Athletics have several openings in their starting rotation and are awaiting one or more hopeful to separate himself from the rest. Saturday's game against the Rangers didn't help clear up any questions about who may still be left standing when camp breaks in a couple of weeks.

As it stands, Sean Manaea and Kendall Graveman are locks. Jharel Cotton, who has had a decent spring, looks to have the inside track on the third spot. The final two openings are still up for grabs, and two pitchers gunning for those jobs seemingly didn't do much to move the needle in an 8-2 loss to the Rangers at Surprise Stadium.

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SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Athletics have several openings in their starting rotation and are awaiting one or more hopeful to separate himself from the rest. Saturday's game against the Rangers didn't help clear up any questions about who may still be left standing when camp breaks in a couple of weeks.

As it stands, Sean Manaea and Kendall Graveman are locks. Jharel Cotton, who has had a decent spring, looks to have the inside track on the third spot. The final two openings are still up for grabs, and two pitchers gunning for those jobs seemingly didn't do much to move the needle in an 8-2 loss to the Rangers at Surprise Stadium.

View Full Game Coverage

Paul Blackburn started the game and allowed two runs over three innings. Daniel Mengden entered in the fifth and finished it, but allowed six runs over those four frames.

In both cases, the pitchers improved as the game progressed, but that doesn't mask the fact that starting slowly has been a problem that has plagued more than one starter in camp this spring.

"The starting has been a little bit of a problem here to begin with," manager Bob Melvin said. "It wasn't yesterday [an A's 2-0 win over Milwaukee]. They'll come around. I believe all of them will come around. We've still got some more time as far as what we're looking at."

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The opening frame was eventful. The Rangers sent six batters to the plate, scored two runs and benefitted from a Jake Smolinski error on a routine fly ball, extending the inning. The damage was done before then, though, when Elvis Andrus, the No. 2 hitter, launched a two-run homer to left field.

The next two frames were quieter for Blackburn.

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"One pitch that leaked back over that Elvis jumped on -- he hit it out of the park, I can't really do anything about that," Blackburn said. "The location should have been better on that pitch. My body feels good and I felt good with the stuff I had today. I feel like my fastball command came a long way since my first outing of spring. I just continue to build off that."

Mengden also settled down as his outing progressed, but early damage was swift. The Rangers scored five times in the fifth and once in the sixth.

Melvin pointed out that Mengden's velocity was good, with his fastball reaching as high as 95 mph.

"This was a little different too, where he's not starting a game," Melvin said. "He's had to come in a little bit later in the game, which is not something he's used to."

Two weeks into Cactus League play, the only starting candidates with ERAs under five are Manaea, who got a late start to his schedule and has pitched two innings, and A.J. Puk, who has not allowed an earned run yet but is all but guaranteed to start the season at Triple-A.

Bullpen cart comeback?

It would be a massive exaggeration to say that the news that the bullpen cart may be making a comeback has swept through Spring Training camps.

In fact, few had even heard that the Diamondbacks are taking the plunge and bringing back the 1970s charming-but-gimmicky vehicle that transports relievers from the bullpen to the mound.

But that doesn't mean relievers, when presented the information, don't have opinions.

After surveying the Dodgers -- who mostly were of the ilk that running in from the 'pen is part of the whole warmup-relief experience and would not want to ride in a bullpen cart -- it's only fair to also ask the A's about this, given both teams' history with bullpen carts.

Enter Ryan Buchter, whose left-handedness pretty much guaranteed a zany, tongue-in-cheek reaction to all of this. And let's just say, Buchter is pro-bullpen cart.

"Love it," he said, when presented with a photo of the A's bullpen cart they used in the 1974 World Series with the Dodgers. "It's not fun running into a ballgame in center field in Denver in the middle of summer. And, by the time we get in there, you only have a minute-thirty left to throw all your [warmup] pitches. It's not good for us relievers. I'm all for the bullpen cart.

"As a 31-year-old 'old' man, a bullpen cart sounds good to me."

Buchter wouldn't limit the free rides to just relievers, though. He'd spread the ride-sharing option to teammates and Melvin, too.

"If we're making a double-switch and we're playing [a National League] team, send [Chad] Pinder out on a cart to left field," Buchter said. "Pick 'Skip' up at the dugout and bring him out to the mound, too."

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.

Oakland Athletics, Paul Blackburn, Daniel Mengden