OAKLAND –- At long last it seems the back of the A’s bullpen is sorting itself out.
Sean Doolittle has grabbed the reins on the closer’s job, converting nine of 10 save opportunities. Luke Gregerson has also found his form as the eighth-inning setup guy. He’s producing like the reliever the A’s thought they were getting when they acquired him from San Diego over the winter for outfielder Seth Smith.
That’s brought some order to a relief corps that was a revolving-door operation in the aftermath of Jim Johnson losing the closer’s job in April.
“In a perfect world, it’s (Dan) Otero in the seventh, Gregerson eighth and Doolittle ninth, with (Fernando) Abad mixed in there for lefties,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said before Friday’s game against Boston. “Now, we’ve been in a lot of games here where we’re not gonna have everybody available because we’ve used these guys so often. But in a perfect world, when everybody’s rested, that’s what we’re looking at.”
On Thursday, it was one of those games where Melvin had to improvise. Doolittle had pitched in back-to-back games and Melvin said he was in need of a breather. So Otero pitched the ninth and registered his first career save. It wasn’t a breeze, as A.J. Pierzynski flied out to the wall in center, narrowly missing a game-tying homer. But the A’s managed to close out a victory that gives them a six-game division lead over the Los Angeles entering Friday night.
“We kind of know where we stand down there,” Otero said. “It’s nice. We’re just throwing the ball well and the starters are still doing a great job. That’s the key to the bullpen. The starters are doing their job, the offense is scoring runs. The team is playing well right now.”
Otero makes a good point. Each of the past two games, the A’s have gotten seven innings from starters Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir. That simplifies the decision-making, and the workload, regarding the relievers.
Melvin would like to start weaving Ryan Cook into the late-inning mix more, but Cook appears to be knocking off rust since coming back from the disabled list June 2. He’s been touched for five earned runs in six games since returning from a strained right forearm. Melvin also mentioned Jim Johnson still as a possibility to get into the late-game mix if he can get his season turned around.
“(Cook) is just having a little trouble throwing strikes consistently,” Melvin said. “He’s another guy we expect to be able to add into that mix. We thought all along we’d be able to mix and match some, give guys some rest. Well, at this point we’re using basically the same three guys, four with Abad.”