A’s get good news on rehabbing pitchers; Phegley taking advantage of playing time

Jharel Cotton began throwing to hitters this week

Jharel Cotton #45 of the Oakland Athletics pitches against the Texas Rangers in the top of the first inning at Oakland Alameda Coliseum on September 24, 2017 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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BALTIMORE — The list of A’s starting pitchers currently rehabbing from injuries is enough to construct a starting rotation you would feel good about giving a strong outing every night. They are not all ready to get back just yet, but returns are getting closer.

Jharel Cotton began throwing to hitters for the first time earlier this week, with A.J. Puk expected to join him in doing so in the coming days. Both pitchers underwent Tommy John surgery less than a month apart from each other before the start of the 2018 regular season.

Facing hitters is a monumental step for both in their rehab. The next step — pitching in actual games.

“Once you start facing hitters, the next step is a rehab assignment,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “It takes a while to get there, but they’re on the pace we expected them to be.”

Cotton, 27, was expected to be a key part of the rotation in 2018 and was looking like the top starter in spring training before the injury, posting a 3.75 ERA with 16 strikeouts and just six walks through 12 innings. The right-hander was looking to bounce back from a poor 2017 season in which he went 9-10 with a 5.54 ERA in 24 starts.

Puk, 23, is rated the A’s No. 2 prospect by MLB.com and appeared on the cusp of a major league call-up before going down with his injury last April. The left-hander struck out 184 batters in 125 innings in the minor leagues in 2017 with a fastball humming around 95-97 mph.

— Josh Phegley was thought to be the defense-first option of the catching platoon between him and Nick Hundley this season. But early on, Phegley has also been getting it done with his bat.

After going 2 for 5 with an RBI double in Tuesday’s 13-2 win over the Orioles, Phegley is now on a career-high six-game hit streak. He’s batting .429 over that stretch to bump his overall average to .321 on the year with two home runs and five RBIs.

Phegley, 31, has carried the label of back-up catcher throughout his career. Now getting regular playing time for the first time, he’s taking advantage of the opportunity. He was out of the starting lineup Wednesday night due to the team playing a day game Thursday, but may end up changing the platoon role to more of a one-sided job in his favor if he keeps this up.

“This is the first real opportunity he’s had and I’m proud of the fact that he is running with it,” Melvin said. “He’s on a roll offensively and that’s really kind of where he’s been bogged down some. He does everything really well defensively, so maybe he profiled to be that backup guy. But now he’s showing what he can do offensively.”

— Nick Martini (knee) began taking part in running drills Wednesday. The outfielder injured his knee in spring training after colliding with the wall in left field at Hohokam Stadium as he attempted to make a catch in foul ground.

— Top pitching prospect Jesús Luzardo (shoulder) remains shut down from pitching but continues to take part in light workouts as part of a strengthening program.

— Chris Bassitt and Daniel Mengden combined to allow just two runs with 14 strikeouts over nine innings for Triple-A Las Vegas Tuesday night. Bassitt, who threw 51 pitches, will get another start in the minors next week as he continues to build up his pitch count.

“Both those guys will be part of this team this year,” Melvin said. “There is no doubt about that.”

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