Chris Bassitt Could Return To A’s This Week

7:34 pm: Bassitt will indeed start Thursday’s game against the Mariners, manager Bob Melvin told reporters (including Matt Kawahara of the San Francisco Chronicle).

9:43 am: As the Athletics try to keep their playoff hopes alive, they could receive a boost that looked unlikely just a few weeks ago. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic tweeted recently that the A’s are targeting Thursday for right-hander Chris Bassitt’s return to the club. Shayna Rubin of the San Jose Mercury News reported last night that Bassitt tossed a 30-pitch bullpen session yesterday — his fourth throwing session since being cleared to throw off a mound.

A return to the field for Bassitt would make for a feel-good moment regardless of any potential impact on the postseason race. The baseball world took a collective gasp when Bassitt was struck in the face by a 100 mph line-drive back on Aug. 17. The right-hander remained down on the field for several minutes as he was tended to by the medical staff. He was eventually carted off the field with a towel covering his face. Bassitt sustained multiple facial fractures that had to be stabilized via surgery, but he avoided a concussion and any damage to his vision or his eye.

It was a frightening scene that quite obviously called into question whether Bassitt would be able to return to the field at all in 2021. Immediate questions were more focused on his overall well-being, but just over a month later, he now remarkably appears to be on the cusp of pitching in a big league game again.

Manager Bob Melvin said last night (via Rubin) that the team isn’t sure what type of role Bassitt would have upon returning. Based on the length of his recent bullpen session and simulated games, it doesn’t seem likely that Bassitt would jump right back into the workhorse rotation role he’d held down prior to the injury. That said, he’s clearly stretched out enough to go multiple innings, so he could make some abbreviated starts down the stretch, serve as a scheduled long man behind an opener, or even just operate as a multi-inning bullpen option as the situation dictates.

Prior to his injury, the 32-year-old Bassitt was in the midst of a career year for the A’s. He’d made 24 starts, averaging just shy of 6 1/3 innings per outing and completing six frames in 17 of those 24 trips to the hill. Along the way, he’d notched an impressive 3.06 ERA with a strong 25.3 percent strikeout rate and an excellent 5.8 percent walk rate through a total of 150 innings. He’s still fourth on the A’s in terms of total innings pitched, trailing Frankie Montas, Sean Manaea and Cole Irvin.

It’s been a tough stretch for the A’s since the injury to Bassitt. The team is 14-16 in the 30 games without him, and Oakland starters have combined for a 4.47 ERA in his absence — ranking just 17th in the Majors during that stretch. That 4.47 mark is due almost entirely to the excellent work of Montas over his past six outings (1.89 ERA, 38 innings pitched). The A’s have leaned on Manaea, Irvin, Paul Blackburn and James Kaprielian to start the team’s remaining games, but each of them has an ERA of 4.94 or worse since Bassitt’s injury.

The A’s aren’t technically eliminated from winning the division just yet, although at seven games back, their chances of doing so are all but nonexistent. Oakland’s best path to the postseason will be to secure the second Wild Card spot in the American League. That spot currently belongs to the Blue Jays, who lead the Yankees by a half game, the A’s by two games and the Mariners by three games.

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