Athletics right-hander Sonny Gray has been shut down for three weeks with what the club is terming a “moderate” lat strain, tweets MLB.com’s Jane Lee. The setback means that Gray will open the year on the disabled list and may not pitch until late April, tweets Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle.
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The news is obviously disheartening for the A’s and for Gray, who missed significant time in 2016 due to a strained trapezius muscle and a strained right forearm. Those injuries contributed to the worst year of Gray’s young career. The 2015 Cy Young candidate limped to a 5.69 ERA in 2016 while registering an elevated walk rate and a 1.4 HR/9 rate that was twice as high as the 0.7 mark he posted a year prior.
With Gray on the shelf for what could be nearly a month of the season (in a best-case scenario), the Opening Day assignment in Oakland likely falls to Kendall Graveman or Sean Manaea. Both young starters are considered locks for the rotation, where they’re likely to be joined by another young arm in the form of Jharel Cotton. To this point in camp, there’s been a competition for the fifth spot in the rotation behind Gray and that young trio, but it now appears as if two spots will be up for grabs. Jesse Hahn, Andrew Triggs, Frankie Montas and Paul Blackburn are all 40-man options for manager Bob Melvin.
The Gray injury represents the second notable hit to the Athletics’ rotation depth in the past month. Back in early February, the A’s announced that right-hander Daniel Mengden, who started 14 games for the team last year, underwent foot surgery that would keep him in a walking boot for at least six weeks. While Oakland has some obvious depth in the rotation (as evidenced by the names listed above), one can imagine that the agents for currently unsigned free agents like Colby Lewis, Doug Fister and others will now circle back with president of baseball operations Billy Beane to determine if the latest setback for Gray creates any urgency to add an arm to the mix.
From a broader perspective, the injury to Gray could potentially hurt the Athletics beyond the thinning of their rotation early in the season. Gray has been an oft-speculated trade candidate for more than a year now, but an early injury in 2017 on the heels of an injury-ruined 2016 campaign makes it more difficult for the A’s to cite that 2016 campaign as an aberration. Even if Gray were to return to peak form upon returning from the disabled list, it’s unlikely that interested parties would completely disregard the recent run of injuries that have slowed the talented young righty.
Of course, Gray still has three years of club control remaining (including the 2017 campaign), so there’s little urgency for the Athletics to trade him in the near term anyhow. The 27-year-old agreed to a one-year, $3.575MM deal this winter to avoid arbitration — his first trip through the arbitration process.