It’s the nature of being a reliever that bad outings get magnified while good ones often go unnoticed.
The Oakland A’s bullpen has endured its share of rough moments this season, which have created all sorts of discussion in the public forum about what the problem might be.
On Saturday, it was the relief corps’ turn to stand in the spotlight and soak up some well-deserved credit. After Scott Kazmir was ejected with one out in the second inning, four relievers combined for 7 2/3 innings of one-run ball to bring home a 6-2 victory over the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field.
Dan Otero couldn’t have guessed his work day would begin so quickly. Teams don’t plan for their starting pitcher to get thumbed after he records just four outs. But that was the case after Kazmir was a little too vocal in protesting a full-count call from home plate umpire Jerry Layne. Layne showed a short fuse and ejected him.
Enter Otero, who was riding a streak of six consecutive scoreless outings but hasn’t been immune to the turbulence endured by his bullpen mates.
“We obviously didn’t really see what was going on,”Otero said. “We didn’t know what was said or anything. We did see him get tossed, so I started scrambling around. A couple other guys started scrambling around and someone said “Otero,” so I grabbed my glove and jogged in to the mound.”
Relievers get all the time they need to warm up after an ejection, but Otero said there’s a tendency to want to rush with a stadium full of people watching.
“It’s really different warming up on the mound as opposed to the bullpen,” he said. “I just tried to take my time as much as I could.”
Otero figured Mike Aviles would be aggressive with runners on the corners, and he coaxed a 5-4-3 double play from Aviles to end the second. Otero wound up going a career-high 3 2/3 innings, scattered four hits and struck out one.
Most importantly, he ended three different innings with double-play grounders, including a fifth-inning play in which he ran down Nick Swisher’s tapper to the right side and started a 1-6-3 play on his final batter.
That was huge for manager Bob Melvin. Rather than burn through his entire bullpen, he didn’t have to make another pitching change until the bottom of the sixth started. At that point, it was as if he was going to his ‘pen for the first time at the point a starter might typically exit.
Oakland’s bullpen owns an American League-best 2.92 ERA, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. There’s been a revolving door at closer, and the A’s eight blown saves are tied with the Astros for most in the league.
But it was a standout effort Saturday, and it didn’t end with Otero. Fernando Abad gave up two hits and a run in the sixth to reduce the A’s lead to 3-2. But Luke Gregerson tossed two shutout innings and struck out three, a nice rebound after Gregerson served up Jose Abreu’s game-changing home run Wednesday against the White Sox.
Sean Doolittle struck out two in the ninth, and the A’s bagged what had to be one of their more satisfying wins of the season, given the circumstances.
There were other encouraging signs. Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss, who each drove in three runs, are doing major damage in the middle of the batting order. The A’s also are playing better team defense of late.
Oakland has won its past three series, and things are rolling along nicely. But the biggest development for the A’s on Saturday was watching the bullpen jump in on the good times.