Oakland still unsure if top pick Murray will report

MLB

The Oakland Athletics still don’t know when or if top draft pick Kyler Murray will report to camp.

The two-sport star has a locker and a No. 73 jersey waiting for him in Oakland’s clubhouse at Hohokam Park, but general manager David Forst said Sunday they were still talking to the Murray family as the Heisman Trophy winner tries to decide whether to pursue MLB as an outfielder or the NFL as a quarterback.

The A’s pitchers and catchers will hold their first workout of spring training on Monday. Position players are scheduled to report on Friday.

In other developments Sunday, manager Bob Melvin addressed the possibility the A’s might need to again get creative with their uncertain rotation as they head into camp, including leaning on their relief pitchers as “openers” to start games.

“We’re open to just about anything,” said Melvin, who opens camp with at least three spots in the rotation currently wide open. “But I don’t know if we’re fixated on going into spring right away saying, ‘We’re going to start with an opener on this game.’ I haven’t scheduled it out that way.”

Reliever Liam Hendriks became the most dependable in that role last season, making nine of the 10 “opener” starts for Oakland in September and October, including in the AL wild-card game against the Yankees.

The makeshift bullpen games helped the A’s earn a surprising postseason appearance, and Hendriks is eager to return to the role. He’s ready to pitch every other day if asked — “I’d love to be able to get to 81 games pitched, just to be able to say I did it,” he said.

The Athletics are getting an early start on spring training because they’re heading to Japan for a season-opening series on March 20-21. The teams will be allowed expanded 28-man rosters for those games, and Melvin expects to use the extra roster space to more carefully manage his pitchers.

“That will allow us to do things at our pace,” Melvin said. “It’s more about the pitching than anything else and making sure they’re ready. With some extra guys, it means we don’t have to push guys to try to get somebody ready to throw 100 pitches in this game (in Tokyo). I don’t know if that’s realistic.”

Besides Mike Fiers and newcomer Marco Estrada, nothing is set in the rotation. Estrada battled hip and back problems last season while with the Blue Jays, yet still made 28 starts, posting a 7-14 record and 5.64 ERA.

“I have to be a little smarter about things like that. If I’m in that much pain, I should probably take it easy,” Estrada said. “I like making all my starts. My goal is to try to make at least 30 starts. That’s something I want to do for these guys, I want to give them innings.”

Last season, Oakland starters combined for 824 1/3 innings, the fewest in team history. Every member of the season-opening starting rotation dealt with injuries.

Daniel Mengden is the most likely pitcher to join Fiers and Estrada in the rotation. He appeared in 22 games (17 starts) last season and was often used as the long man following the “openers.” Frankie Montas and Chris Bassitt are also strong possibilities, while injured starters Jharel Cotton, Sean Manaea and Andrew Triggs may return at some point in 2019.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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