Sheets lands on DL with strained elbow
Left-hander Bowers recalled to take roster spot
OAKLAND -- A's right-hander Ben Sheets was gathering innings, but he was also compiling an unwelcome dose of familiar pain recently.
The veteran pitcher, who posted at least six innings in each of his last 14 starts, was placed on the 15-day disabled list Saturday with a strained right elbow following a pair of outings that brought about inflammation in his surgically repaired elbow.
"It's been up and down," a disappointed Sheets said Saturday morning, "but for the past two games it's been telling me something, and it's swelled up pretty good both times."
Surprisingly, the A's pitcher -- who missed all of 2009 following elbow surgery -- put together rather impressive numbers during those starts, which resulted in just a combined two runs. But those numbers, no matter how they read in a box score, didn't say as much as the one that read on the radar gun, Sheets insisted.
"I know last start it hurt," he said, "and somewhere in that long game against Anaheim, I think, didn't help me. If you notice my velocity in that game, it went down after that long inning."
Said frame was the third inning against Los Angeles on July 10, when the A's posted eight runs en route to a 15-1 win. Sheets allowed just two hits in six shutout frames that day, but that's when he also began experiencing the inflammation, which resurfaced in his most recent start July 19 against Boston -- on a night when his fastball didn't reach 90 miles per hour until his last inning.
"I was still successful with the diminished velocity," he said. "It didn't fool me, but I was still able to pitch. When I knew my stuff wasn't there, I knew it wasn't going away."
Thus, Sheets was checked out by a handful of A's doctors this week. But, when asked of the results from those visits, the seasoned pitcher shook his head and simply said he's going to "wait and see" what orthopedist Dr. Keith Meister -- the Rangers' team physician in Arlington, Texas, -- has to say about it all. Sheets said he'll likely see Meister, who aided his past elbow troubles, early this week during the club's trip to Texas for a three-game set against the Rangers.
"I'm going to wait and let Meister tell us what's really going on," Sheets said. "He'll tell all."
A's general manager Billy Beane, who just Friday said "it would behoove us to keep a guy like that around" when directly addressing trade rumors surrounding Sheets, essentially expressed the same sentiment regarding the pitcher's future.
"You don't want to speculate anything until you have a more definitive diagnosis," said Beane, who in January signed Sheets as a free agent to a one-year deal worth $10 million. "At times his velocity was better than others. We're concerned with the amount of swelling he had afterward, which is unique -- something he didn't have up to this point."
The club's recent off-day Thursday lent manager Bob Geren an opportunity to hand Sheets an extra day of rest rather than have him go Saturday. But even a Sunday start -- freshly deemed Dallas Braden's -- eventually proved to be out of the question.
"It's disappointing because Ben's been pitching well," Beane said. "He's been a great influence on these young guys. Everyone feels bad for him. He's such a competitor. He wanted to pitch on Sunday. ... He's the kind of guy that will tell you less because he wants to go out there. You have to sift through his competitiveness."
"I was going to pitch tomorrow," Sheets said, "but I don't know how smart that would have been. It's kind of like you're on borrowed time, too. There's a reason people don't throw 83 or 85 [mph] consistently in the big leagues.
"Swelling's no good. I know that. Your arm just doesn't swell. Things just don't swell for no reason."
Sheets said Saturday that the swelling is down "but still there," and he also recognizes a handful of symptoms relevant to his past elbow injury. At the same time, he noted, there are definite differences.
"You tend to forget what things felt like," he said. "Like when I was comparing it to the guys, it's similar but it's different to what I experienced. It's similar that I get some pain up in the forearm and my velocity's down. It's different in the spots that it hurts and the region. I even think the severity of it feels different.
When asked if the severity is of a lesser degree, a noticeably frustrated Sheets -- entering his seventh career DL stint -- paused before continuing.
"I don't know the diagnosis, but I know that my arm moves more free right now than it did," he said. "Two years ago, I couldn't move my arm at all. It was there all day, every day. Everything I do is pretty normal except throw the baseball over 85 miles an hour. That hurts."
In reality, though, Sheets knows at no point this season was he necessarily close to returning to his old self, the one that was a four-time National League All-Star while with Milwaukee. He was 4-9 with a 4.53 ERA in 20 starts for the A's and has allowed an American League-leading 57 extra-base hits.
"The whole year's been frustrating," he said. "From where I was before spring, it's never really taken any jumps you always hear about. To say I felt good for extended periods of time would be false. I felt good here and there -- a couple innings here, a couple innings there, but nothing sustained throughout the year."
The A's, who recalled left-handed reliever Cedrick Bowers to take Sheets' spot on the roster, have now used the disabled list 19 times this year and 83 times over the last four seasons. Only the Rangers, with 86, have used the DL more times over that span.
Not much consolation comes from these situations, Beane said, but knowing that lefty Brett Anderson is nearly ready to rejoin the rotation -- also boasting Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, Dallas Braden and Vin Mazzaro -- helps ease the burden of yet another injured player.
"The guys in there now," Beane said, "we like quite a bit. With Brett returning soon, we'll be able to pick up with a five-man rotation again. We've created a little depth in the past five months."
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.