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OAKLAND – Every now and then the A’s get a tease from their bullpen, a sign that perhaps one of several relievers is ready to grab the reins on the closer’s role.
But nearly one-quarter into the season, manager Bob Melvin is still looking for a consistent answer in save situations. Oakland’s seven blown saves are second-most in the American League behind Houston’s eight. It took three pitching changes in the ninth inning Monday for the A’s to finally nail down a 5-4 win over the Chicago White Sox.
“You always are searching for the best fit to where you have someone that you feel like is gonna be that guy to close games for you, so everyone leading up to that has an understanding for when they’re gonna pitch,” Melvin said before Tuesday’s game against Chicago. “We’re just not there yet unfortunately.”
Sean Doolittle was the latest to provide an encouraging couple of outings, raising the question of whether he’s ready to be the full-time closer. Doolittle came on to slam the door against the White Sox on Monday for his second save. That outing came on the heels of an impressive two-inning stint Saturday against the Washington Nationals.
Doolittle has made an adjustment with his slider to where he, Melvin and pitching coach Curt Young feel it’s an effective secondary pitch to his fastball.
“He certainly has the stuff to (close),” Melvin said. “But he’s so good about coming in with guys on base, whether it’s the seventh or eighth inning, and sometimes those are the most important leverage situations of the game. But he definitely has the stuff to do it. That’s one of the reasons the organization signed him long-term is potentially him filling that (closer) role.”
[RELATED: Doolittle seeing results after adjustments]
Jim Johnson entered the regular season as the unquestioned closer, but his early struggles set in motion a revolving door in save situations.
He nailed down a save last Wednesday against Seattle, but he gave up a run in closing out a lopsided win Sunday against Washington, then allowed a double and RBI single to his only batters faced Monday night.
Melvin was asked if he’s been hoping Johnson would have re-claimed the closer’s job by now.
“Sure, absolutely. I think we all have,” Melvin said. “And we’re trying to pick some good situations for him. He was awfully impressive on the road and he had a nice string of scoreless innings up until the other day. He’s probably still not there.”
In other bullpen news, Ryan Cook is progressing well from a strained right forearm that landed him on the disabled list. He has yet to try throwing, but Melvin said he’s doing well in his rehab exercises.
He’s eligible to be activated May 23, but Cook would have to start throwing very soon to have any chance of returning to the active roster on that date.