MESA, Ariz. — Ryan Madson goes about his business getting ready for the season, without much clarity on what his bullpen role will be and hardly wringing his hands over the mystery.
A’s manager Bob Melvin has four veteran relievers with closer experience to choose from to be his ninth-inning man. He said Saturday morning he likely won’t announce that decision until the Bay Bridge Series that leads into Opening Day.
Madson, who rang up 30 saves as Oakland’s primary closer last season, prepares the same during the spring regardless of what inning he might pitch. He sees the numerous closer options as being a benefit for whoever ultimately gets picked for the ninth.
“If I’m doing it and I don’t get it done, there’s guys that will,” Madson said. “It’s not just a one-man show, so that takes the pressure off actually. People would think maybe it adds pressure — you gotta do good so you can have it. To me, it does the exact opposite. That helps me, knowing the more guys you’ve got that can do the job, the easier that job becomes.”
It wouldn’t be a shock if Melvin goes with the 36-year-old Madson as closer to begin the season. He’s the incumbent, and, though he had a 7.50 spring ERA before throwing a scoreless inning Saturday, no one among the trio of John Axford, Santiago Casilla and Sean Doolittle has made an emphatic statement for the job with their Cactus League performance. Axford’s 5.06 ERA is the lowest of those four.
From his comments so far this spring, Melvin seems inclined to use Ryan Dull as an escape artist to enter with men on base, a situation that he excelled in last season.
Regardless of how Melvin lines up his bullpen for the regular season, he’s said that he’s likely to utilize multiple guys in save situations depending on who’s available and who needs rest on a given day.
At this time last year, Madson was assumed to be the eighth-inning setup man with Doolittle handling closer duties. Melvin wound up flip-flopping them for the start of the regular season, and Madson got off to a strong start and remained the closer for most of the year. In his first extended ninth-inning duty since 2011, he notched his second 30-save season but also had seven blown saves, tied for second most in the American League.
“The emotions are different” in the ninth inning, Madson said. “They’re heightened, and so I had to adjust that way. … As long as I can navigate those emotions and put them in the right place, I usually do well when I can do that.”
Entering the second year of a three-year, $22 million contract, Madson said he likes the way he’s rounding into form on the mound despite less-than-glittering numbers.
“When I have good angle on the ball, good deception and good movement, then I get outs and I get ground balls,” he said. “I get strikeouts with the changeup. So if I focus on that, everything else falls in where it needs to.”
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — There is no way to really ramp up the intensity when an All-Star pitcher makes an appearance in minor league camp, so Johnny Cueto instead found a way to have a bit more fun.
While getting his work in against A-ball hitters, Cueto had a prolonged, smile-filled battle with 19-year-old Jasrado Chisholm, one of the Diamondbacks’ top prospects. The sequence between Cueto and the shortstop from the Bahamas:
- Cueto just missed with a two-strike inside fastball, so he went right back to the same spot, freezing Chisholm, who smiled and nodded at Cueto, who laughed back.
- The next time up, Chisholm took two vicious hacks, trying to crank a homer onto Hayden Road. He missed both breaking balls by about a foot.
- Before the third pitch, Cueto yelled something at Chisholm and smiled. “I was telling him to keep his eye on the ball,” Cueto said. “Because every time he was swinging, he was taking his eye off the ball.”
- The advice worked. Chisholm hung in on the third pitch, lining a single to left-center. Cueto laughed and pointed his glove at the teenager. He promptly picked him off of first base. “He probably doesn’t know I have a quick move,” he said. “I was having fun with a kid who wanted to actually hit against me.”
Nobody has more fun than Cueto, even on a sun-baked minor league field. He capped his day by standing in for an at-bat of his own, and he stood and watched as a young Diamondback struck him out.
The work on the mound was just what was needed: 7 innings, 85 pitches, 10 strikeouts, 0 runs. Cueto, who missed the opening weeks of camp, is ready for the season.
“I feel strong,” he said. “I feel really good."