The Athletics announced a series of roster moves Thursday, activating righty Paul Blackburn from the 60-day DL and transferring outfielder Boog Powell from the 10-day DL to the 60-day DL in his place. To make room on the active roster for Blackburn, who’ll start tonight’s game, Oakland optioned catcher Bruce Maxwell to Triple-A Nashville.
Maxwell became a controversial figure last season as the first (and still only) MLB player to take a knee during the National Anthem, but he received quite a bit more negative attention months later when he was arrested and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. (He reached a plea agreement in mid-April.) While the Athletics front office publicly voiced support for Maxwell as a player, the team also went out and signed Jonathan Lucroy to a one-year deal, supplanting Maxwell as the starter.
Thus far, that looks to have been a wise move. Maxwell didn’t hit much in two previous seasons with the A’s, and he’s off to a dismal .182/.207/.309 start to the season, albeit in a small sample of just 58 plate appearances. Lucroy, meanwhile, has posted a solid .263/.320/.359 slash, though that respectable production is still light years away from his peak form. He’ll continue to handle the bulk of the catching duties, and it seems that Josh Phegley will now serve as his primary backup for the time being.
Blackburn, meanwhile, has yet to pitch in the Majors this season due to a forearm strain suffered in Spring Training. Now healthy, he’ll look to step up in an injury-plagued Athletics rotation that has lost Jharel Cotton for the season and currently has Andrew Triggs, Daniel Gossett and Brett Anderson on the MLB disabled list.
Blackburn delivered mixed results for the A’s in 10 starts last season. On the one hand, he posted a very strong 3.22 ERA with a terrific 56.3 percent ground-ball rate and just 2.45 walks per nine innings pitched in 58 2/3 innings. On the other hand, he missed fewer bats than any pitcher in MLB, averaging just 3.38 strikeouts per nine innings pitched and turning in a 5.8 percent swinging-strike rate. Fielding independent pitching metrics all felt his true talent level was more than a run higher, with SIERA most bearishly pegging him at 5.15.
As for Powell, he’s been out since early April with a sprained right knee. He’s already missed nearly two full months of action and has yet to go out on a minor league rehab assignment, so today’s transfer is purely a procedural move to open a 40-man spot for Blackburn. Powell has already spent 60 days on the DL anyhow, and the move to the lengthier DL doesn’t reset his eligibility for activation.