The Athletics are shutting All-Star right-hander Paul Blackburn down for the remainder of the season, manager Mark Kotsay announced to reporters (Twitter link via Matt Kawahara of the San Francisco Chronicle). Blackburn has been plagued by discomfort in his pitching hand and recently saw a specialist regarding inflammation in his right middle finger. An exact diagnosis has not been announced by the team just yet, nor has a treatment plan, but it seems there’s enough concern that they’ll call it a season for the 28-year-old righty.
Blackburn was the Athletics’ lone All-Star representative — as one would expect for a club in the early stages of a rebuild — but was a plenty deserving candidate all the same. Through his first 16 starts this year, the right-hander worked to a tidy 2.90 ERA, and while that came with a pedestrian 18.8% strikeout rate, Blackburn’s strong 6.2% walk rate and 48.7% grounder rate helped him to overcome that sub-par mark.
Things have gone off the rails completely for Blackburn in his five most recent starts, however. In that span of 24 1/3 innings, he’s been tattooed for 25 runs on 31 hits — eight of which have left the yard — and eight walks. The average velocity on his sinker is down about a half mile per hour over those five starts, and it seems quite likely that Blackburn was pitching at less than 100 percent as he labored through that ugly stretch of five starts.
That string of poor outings ballooned Blackburn’s ERA from 2.90 all the way to 4.28, but that’ll still go down as one of the sharper seasons of his career to date. Blackburn was removed from the A’s 40-man roster prior to the 2021 season, after all, going unclaimed on waivers and battling his way back to the Major League roster. His early breakout and All-Star nod made for one of the best storylines of the year for A’s fans in an otherwise miserable campaign that has seen a beloved manager and several popular veterans depart while the front office commences yet another teardown of the roster.
Blackburn’s solid showing through 111 1/3 innings will net him a decent raise in arbitration, which he’ll reach for the first time this winter. While teams surely inquired on his availability prior to the trade deadline, it seems unlikely that the A’s would sell low on him following a season-ending hand injury. As such, even with a bump to a couple million dollars or so in the offing this winter, Blackburn figures to be back with Oakland in 2023. The A’s can control him all the way through the 2025 season.