Sean Manaea is ready to return.
In his last four rehab starts for Triple-A Las Vegas, the A's talented left-hander has pitched 23 2/3 innings, allowing just five earned runs on 11 hits with an overwhelming 36 strikeouts. Most recently, Manaea tossed seven shutout frames with 12 punchouts.
The 27-year-old underwent shoulder surgery last September, and while he has had a couple of minor setbacks along the way, he now appears to be back at full strength. The question becomes where does Manaea fit into Oakland's starting rotation? A's starters have been tremendous the past few weeks and there is no obvious candidate to remove from the rotation.
Mike Fiers and Tanner Roark are definitely locked into the top two spots. That leaves Chris Bassitt, Homer Bailey, and Brett Anderson, all of whom have pitched well in August. Bassitt has been particularly effective, maintaining a 2.55 ERA this month.
Bailey has been terrific in his last three starts, allowing a total of four runs in 18 2/3 innings. Anderson has also been solid, if not spectacular, limiting opponents to three runs or fewer in eight of his last 10 outings.
A's manager Bob Melvin wouldn't rule out the idea of a six-man rotation in the month of September, especially when Oakland plays 16 straight games without a day off between Sept. 3 and 18. A six-man rotation would allow each starter to get a little more recovery time, which could work wonders this late in the season.
If Manaea did replace a starter in the rotation, Anderson and Bailey appear to be the primary candidates at this point, especially if either one were to turn in a couple of subpar outings in a row.
Another option could be moving one of the starters to the bullpen, an area that could desperately use the help. If Melvin and A's brass decided to go that direction, Bassitt would make the most sense, if they could talk him into the idea. The hard-throwing right-hander would be a valuable weapon in the seventh or eighth inning as a setup man for All-Star closer Liam Hendriks.
The A's will get some help from a numbers perspective on Sept. 1 when the rosters expand from 25 to 40. However, since Manaea is on the 60-day IL, Oakland will have to make a corresponding 40-man roster move when he is activated.
Minor-league pitchers Tanner Anderson and Wei-Chung Wang could become DFA candidates at that point. Oakland could also recall right-hander Daniel Mengden, currently on the injured list in Las Vegas with elbow soreness, and move him to the 60-man IL to create a roster spot.
Whichever direction the A's decide to go, it's a good problem to have, as Melvin has repeated in recent days. Last year, Oakland learned first-hand that you can never have too much pitching depth.
The Green and Gold certainly have that now.