Injury bug bites A's often in first half

Oakland has 11 players on the disabled list

Injury bug bites A's often in first half

The A's stumbled into the All-Star break, carrying the fourth-worst record in the American League following a hardly inspiring first half defined mostly by injuries and inconsistent performances.

Oakland dropped eight of its final 11 games to close out the first half, bringing its record to 38-51 for fourth place in the AL West -- 15 1/2 games behind the division-leading Rangers.

The A's managed to finish April above the .500 mark (13-12) but quickly dug themselves too deep a hole in the ensuing months while battling a rash of injuries, going 25-39 since the start of May. They've already used the disabled list 20 times this year and currently have 11 players on the DL.

Health was only part of the equation, though. The starting rotation too often faltered, and the offense lacked regularity in production, which proved to be a recipe for several rough stretches.

The A's saw low-risk, high-reward potential in left-hander Rich Hill, whose one-year, $6 million deal now appears to be one of the best buys of the offseason. Hill has been the A's top starter, minus a five-week stretch in which he was shelved with a groin injury. Shortstop Marcus Semien has thrived on both sides of the ball, having made great strides defensively while showcasing additional power.  An overhauled bullpen, though not without its missteps, is much improved, in large part because of the work of magician Ryan Dull.

Hill's 10 K's in 10 seconds

Injuries plagued the A's much of the way, specifically pitchers: Chris Bassitt and Felix Doubront were both lost for the year to Tommy John surgery; along with Hill, Sonny Gray endured a DL stint (right trapezius), as did Sean Manaea (left forearm); and Henderson Alvarez has suffered two setbacks with his surgically-repaired right shoulder. Moreover, Josh Reddick missed five weeks with a fractured left thumb, and the A's were also without Jed Lowrie (right shin) and Danny Valencia (left hamstring) for parts of the first half, making it a struggle for them to consistently field a healthy and productive product.

The A's are only as good as their starters. The rotation was always the biggest unknown going into the season, based on inexperience and injury risk, but its struggles have seemingly surpassed what anyone deemed to be the worst-case scenario. Not only have a rash of injuries rid the A's of their depth, but even their best arm, Gray, has been without his best stuff, concluding the first half with just three wins -- all recorded in April -- and a 5.16 ERA. In short, the rotation was mostly a mess for much of the first half, largely contributing to the club's rollercoaster ride into the All-Star break. The A's have already used 11 starting pitchers, most in the American League.

Only Semien started every game of the first half, and he proved just as productive as he was reliable, racking up a career-high 19 home runs -- most among AL shortstops. His play in the field should be commended too: after committing 35 errors last year, an Oakland record for a shortstop, Semien has made just nine to this point.

Semien's solo homer in the 4th

Though sidelined for several weeks, Hill's first-half performance still deserves applause. The veteran left-hander pitched to a 2.25 ERA in 13 starts, striking out 90 batters in 76 innings. He limited opponents to two home runs during that stretch, and they hit just .200 against him overall -- numbers that would've made him an easy All-Star selection if not for the injury.

Hill's six solid innings

Dull has been spectacular in relief work -- almost perfect with men on base. He stranded the first 36 runners he inherited, which is the longest such streak by any pitcher in the Expansion Era, before allowing two to score on Saturday. Still, he picked up the save in the win over Houston. No wonder manager Bob Melvin often refers to him as the best toy in his chest.

Jane Lee has covered the A's for since 2010. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.