The A's don't have five legitimate starting pitchers. They have six, one more than the standard rotation size. That leaves Chris Bassitt as the odd man out, asked to prepare for the tough job of being a long reliever who could join the rotation if required.
Baseball players are sticklers for routine. Uncertainty isn't ideal, and the right-hander didn't love being considered a swingman when the A's originally asked him to do so. He has since come around, choosing to embrace the situation after success doing it in 2019.
"I have been blessed to know that I can do starting or relieving at a very high level," Bassitt said Wednesday in a video conference. "It's more so understanding my role is not really knowing it. I have to focus on staying in the best possible shape and giving our team a chance to win whenever I'm called upon and trusting [the staff and front office] is putting us in the best position to win. I have full faith in that."
The A's might well need him to start right away. Jesus Luzardo tested positive for the coronavirus, per the San Francisco Chronicle, setting him back and putting his place in the initial rotation in jeopardy. That's especially true considering the short three-week ramp up to a 60-game season.
Skipper Bob Melvin considers himself fortunate to have Bassitt available to step right in if needed.
"It's a huge benefit because it's a tough role to embrace, and it has taken him a little while to embrace that role, too," the A's manager said. "It's one thing to embrace it and another thing to excel at it, and last year he did. He goes into this year with the confidence that he can do it. It's very difficult to break pitchers into roles they aren't used to. It almost gives you an excuse if you fail. That's out the window for him. He has had success in that role and now he embraces it."
Bassitt admits he's a bit behind some others in terms of stamina. He wasn't able to throw to hitters or simulate games during the layoff between spring training and now, as a result of baseball hitting pause due to the coronavirus pandemic. He didn't have the facilities or workout partners required to get that done where he lives.
Bassitt said Frankie Montas is built up quite a bit, and that Mike Fiers and Jesus Luzardo have thrown a bunch. The righty followed Yusmeiro Petit's workout regimen during the downtime, with a heavy focus on long-tossing to maintain arm strength.
He's in great shape but estimates it will take some time to catch up to some other A's starters during a compacted lead-up to the season.
"I threw two innings yesterday," Bassitt said. "I literally could not throw six innings. There's no way. I'm a step or two behind others in that aspect of it but could easily get built up to like five innings or maybe six. I think Montas could throw five right now if he wanted to."
That won't impact the A's decision to insert him into the starting rotation if required.
"Some guys will be able to throw 80-to-85 pitches on their first start," Melvin said. "Maybe in [Bassitt's] case -- we'll see if we get there -- if he's a 60[-pitch] guy, he would still start but we we would have to identify what the bullpen would look like more at length. I don't think it would affect what he is going to do in terms of a start, if he's in fact a starter."
Melvin can't comment on Luzardo's situation, considering the A's policy on not discussing coronavirus test results. He declined to say if Luzardo is able to get throwing done while in quarantine.
It ultimately remains uncertain if Bassitt will be called into the rotation right away. He planned on being a swingman last year and ended up starting 25 games.
While it's too early for Melvin to make any decisions about whether he'll start the season, Bassitt is training like he'll be in the rotation right away.
"He's taking that mindset," Melvin said. "He wants to get his pitch count up. It's easier to work up than to try and work up to a certain level."
Why Chris Bassitt's vital role with A's in 2020 season already clear originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area