McCarthy not yet throwing; Fuentes throwing, but not in games

ARLINGTON — Right-hander Brandon McCarthy was seen hard at work in the visiting clubhouse in Texas on Thursday — on a crossword puzzle.

The injured A’s pitcher, again sidelined by recurring right shoulder soreness, has yet to resume throwing and won’t until he’s pain-free, a feeling he hasn’t quite reached yet since shutting things down on Saturday.

“You can then usually start working on shoulder exercises and strengthening to kind of get rid of that deficit that’s been created, and then at that point you can get back on a normal schedule and start mapping things out,” McCarthy said. “Right now, you just go a day at a time and kind of gauge it and try to slowly build off it.

“For now, it’s a lot of doing this, sitting around and being bored.”

The 28-year-old right-hander has been troubled by shoulder issues for the last several years, but the problem has been much more acute this season, with McCarthy missing time on three separate occasions — mostly, he says, because of his proactive approach with it.

“I’ve never done it like this where it’s been, miss a start and then make a start and then maybe a quick DL and come off and go through the cycle again,” he said. “Usually I’ve kept going until it’s really hurt, and then it’s a big shutdown. This year, it’s trying to find ways to swim around it, which going forward is probably not something I’ll do again, but it was just about trying a different attack to it this year.

“I think more rest, and hopefully I avoid this process again. It’s a whole lot of guesswork at this point.”

In McCarthy’s absence, along with the rotation hole left by the injured Bartolo Colon, Oakland’s young starting staff has been remarkable. A’s starters entered the day 6-2 with a 1.73 ERA and .157 opponents average over the last 13 games.

And while that work has gone unnoticed by most in the game, McCarthy has been paying plenty attention.

“It’s unbelievable, especially considering the youth,” he said. “This isn’t the five that came out of Spring Training. Everybody is throwing unbelievably well, and they’re doing all the things you want to see from a really veteraned staff — lots of strikes, not walking guys, putting guys away when they need to, keeping the ball on the ground, keeping the ball in the yard. If you saw this coming from a Yankees staff or Red Sox staff, it’s what you’d expect. It’s really outstanding to see and not easy to do.”

Lefty Brian Fuentes has made just two appearances in two weeks, and he’s seemingly out of the late-inning mix — at least for now.

Initially slowed by an ankle injury in the middle of the month, Fuentes didn’t pitch in nine consecutive games, before allowing three runs in just 1/3 of an inning of work on Saturday against the Giants. He hasn’t pitched since.

“I’d like to get him a nice, clean inning, where I don’t have to put him in a tough position, since he hasn’t pitched a lot,” manager Bob Melvin said Thursday. “He did have the ankle injury. It’s probably asking a bit much of him right now to bring him in a game in the eighth inning with the tying or winning run on. I’d like to get him a softer landing to get him going again, but in this ballpark, you tend to use the bullpen a bit more.”

It was less than a month ago when Fuentes was anointed the team’s closer, a role he only held for a couple of weeks before continual struggles led to Melvin going with a three-man, closer-by-committee approach. But Ryan Cook has received the majority of ninth-inning action since that time, and the All-Star worthy rookie appears to have solidified his full-time place in that role.

Righty Grant Balfour, meanwhile, has not allowed a run over his past 10 games, a stretch that has Melvin again confident in the hurler’s set-up abilities in the eighth. Fuentes could return to a similar role, too, but not before he finds his groove again.

Fuentes, whose name as circulated around trade rumors, entered Thursday with a 6.85 ERA, highest among all American League relievers.

“I’d certainly like to get him in games more frequently,” Melvin said. “We just had a stretch there where he wasn’t in games, and it’s kind of snowballed a bit.”

Bartolo Colon threw off the mound Thursday in Texas for the first time since suffering a right oblique strain, and Melvin said the veteran came out of the session well.

“Hopefully we can get him a start sooner than later,” he said. “He’s on target or maybe ahead of it. Whether or not he pitches before the break, we’re not sure yet.”

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