Balfour and Cook make a dangerous 1-2 punch

September 12, 2012, 2:22 am
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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."