Balfour and Cook make a dangerous 1-2 punch


Balfour and Cook make a dangerous 1-2 punch

ANAHEIM -- It's a cloudy, overcast and surprisingly humid day in Anaheim. A's manager Bob Melvin is sitting in the dugout shaking his head in disgust. He throws his hands up and stops me mid question. I have done the unthinkable in the superstitious manager's mind. I asked him about Grant Balfour being 10 for 10 in save opportunities since re-taking over the closer's role on August 11. Fortunately the dugout bench is made of some form of synthetic wood to knock on. Melvin's concerns aside, Balfour's pitching may be too good to jinx. He has a 1.85 ERA in his last 43 games. The Australian-born pitcher's second tour of duty as closer is just another example of solid decision making by the A's organization. Balfour started the year as the team's closer. He converted his first five saves before hitting a rough patch at the end of April. He allowed seven earned runs over six outings and blew two saves losing the ninth inning job he coveted. "I set a goal at the start of the year to get that job and I was disappointed when they took it away from me so quick," Balfour said. "I felt like it was a quick trigger really, I had a rough week and it was gone." "That happens in baseball," Balfour added. "You ask anyone in this room it's tough to be nails all year long. It's how you bounce back." And bounce back he did. Instead of sulking Balfour got locked in. He didn't allow a run in 32 of his next 35 appearances, eight of which were more than one inning. "All these guys are about winning and they are not letting pride get in the way of what we are trying to do as a team," Melvin said. "There hasn't been a guy that hasn't been fine with whatever we consider is the best thing to do as a team at that particular time." Being the closer has suited the fiery pitcher well. Since August 11 he has a 67.1 strike percentage and his average fastball velocity is 91.5 MPH. Prior to that date he had a 61.6 strike percentage and average fastball clocked in at 89.9 MPH, though the "Mad Aussie" insists he hasn't changed a thing."Ninth inning, you got the lead, you want to win the ballgame," Balfour said. "It's not like I am getting any crazier. I'm the same guy with the same stuff." Balfour regained the job at the expense of rookie reliever Ryan Cook, who earned 13 saves as the A's closer but blew seven of them. Balfour is third among American League relievers with a .164 opponents batting average. Cook ranks fourth in the league with a .170 opponents batting average. They have both been very good this season. Cook was even the A's lone All-Star representative. He struck out Bryce Harper and David Wright in a scoreless seventh inning during the Mid-Summer Classic. He is just one of many rookie success stories in the A's pitching staff. "It's been awesome," Cook said. "I don't know that we really grasped how good we could be. Once we started steamrolling a little bit we realized we can compete with any body." Cook has once again found his nasty form. He hasn't allowed a run 11 of his last 12 appearances. He attributes an ever-so-subtle mechanical tweak to his resurgence. "It's not a big deal I just fixed myself," Cook said. "It was pointed out by Sean Doolittle and I talked to Curt Young about it. I just made a tiny little adjustment it was nothing big just went back to being effective." Cook ranks second among AL rookies with 60 games pitched and 13 saves. He and Balfour have become a dangerous 1-2 punch in the back end of the A's bullpen. They even took the time to show off their combos during batting practice by pretending to spar with each other. There are no hard feeling about who is closing and who isn't. "He is a professional and he knows what he is doing," Cook said of Balfour. "He is a hell of a pitcher and I love it for him and I love it for us." Balfour has 17 saves this season, and 27 in his career. He is the all-time leader in saves by a pitcher born in Australia, something he says he takes in stride. "It's not a whole lot of saves to be honest," Balfour said with a laugh. "It's kind of one of those things that is cool and hopefully I can extend it out a lot longer so when the next kid comes along he's got something to work for."

A's slugger Khris Davis bows out of World Baseball Classic

A's slugger Khris Davis bows out of World Baseball Classic

MESA, Ariz. -- A's left fielder Khris Davis confirmed that he won't play for Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic.

Davis said he felt "terrible" about the decision, but that he wanted his undivided attention to be on preparing for his second season with Oakland.

"I kind of feel over-extended," he said shortly before the A's hit the field for their first full-squad workout of the season.

Coming off a season where he clubbed a career-best 42 home runs with 102 RBI, Davis said he wouldn't dwell on the incredibly slow start he had in 2016 or the monster numbers he proceeded to put up after that. But he's ready to help the A's try to rebound from back-to-back last place finishes.

"There's a lot of excitement, I can feel it."

A's spring training update Day 5: Rainfall makes for short workout

A's spring training update Day 5: Rainfall makes for short workout

MESA, Ariz. — The rain indeed hit Saturday, cutting into the A’s plans for the morning.

They wound up sending a group of pitchers from the minor league facility back to Hohokam Stadium to get their throwing in. But by the time the A’s called it a day shortly before 10:30 a.m., manager Bob Melvin said everyone who was scheduled to throw off the mound got to do so.

Sunday’s forecast calls for possible rain to throw another wrench in things. But the weekend’s weather predictions haven’t exactly been spot-on with the timing of showers, so who knows how it will unfold as Oakland hits the field for its first official full-squad workout of 2017.

The workout will begin about 11 a.m. at the minor league facility (Lew Wolff Training Complex) if the current plans hold.

HEALTH UPDATE: Sean Doolittle said there’s no timetable yet for him to throw off a mound for the first time in camp. Part of that caution stems from last spring. Doolittle, who’s been sidelined for big portions of the past two seasons with shoulder issues, went full bore from the start of camp last year, then had to back off for a bit in the middle of camp and then cram several game appearances into the final stage of exhibitions to ensure he was ready for the regular season.

This spring, the idea is to go light early in camp before gradually ramping things up for the rest of the spring and leading into the season, Doolittle said. Melvin said once the lefty begins appearing in exhibitions, he’ll be on a regular schedule like the other relievers.

“It’s just a matter of when we get him in there,” Melvin said.

Doolittle already had thrown off the mound in pre-camp workouts, so he said he’s not concerned about being held back right now.

NOTEWORTHY: By Saturday, the most noteworthy position player who hadn’t yet been spotted in the clubhouse was left fielder Khris Davis. Players aren’t required to actually show up by reporting day, just check in with the team. The first full-squad workout is Sunday.

The A’s still don’t have a timetable for reliever Santiago Casilla’s arrival, though a team spokesperson said the wheels are in motion for his travel paperwork to soon be cleared in the Dominican Republic.

ODDS AND ENDS: Pitchers will throw live batting practice to hitters Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday, the A’s will hold simulated games and Thursday will feature more of an intrasquad-style game with an actual defense playing behind the pitcher as he throws to hitters. It’s all in preparation for next Saturday’s Cactus League opener on the road against the Cubs.