If the Oakland Athletics can jump out to a lead this season, they should be in great shape.
As pitchers and catchers reported Wednesday, manager Bob Melvin reflected on his numerous options to close out games. So many options, in fact, that he might not even need a traditional closer.
“We may not have one particular closer,” Melvin said. “We may do things a bit differently this year.”
Between Santiago Casilla, who is returning to his original team after spending seven years across the Bay in San Francisco, Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson and John Axford, the A’s have four back-of-the-bullpen arms who have combined for 389 major league saves.
“The tough part will be identifying who goes where,” Melvin said.
Then there’s Ryan Dull, who quietly emerged as a big-time reliever last year with a 2.42 ERA in 70 appearances. And yes, he too can close. Dull had three saves last year.
Another late-inning option is Liam Hendriks, who had a 3.76 ERA in 53 appearances.
“Really, you have six back-end-of-the-bullpen guys,” said catcher Stephen Vogt. “That gives Bob a lot of options on what he wants to do late in the game.”
Melvin said this could allow him to take pressure off the team’s young starters, allowing them to finish their starts after five or six innings and feel confident going into their next assignments.
In addition, Vogt said, “You can take a guy like Madson, who can go two innings, and you don’t have to worry because you have the three others to pick up the next few days. It really gives us a lot of depth.”
The situation is helped by the fact that Madson, who took over the closer role from the injured Doolittle last year, isn’t demanding or even expecting a consistent role.
“I’m not like that,” said the 36-year-old Madson, who was part of World Series title teams with Philadelphia in 2008 and Kansas City in 2015. “I’ve told Bob that. Games are won and lost in the sixth and seventh innings, too. I enjoy getting out of jams in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. I enjoy setting up. I don’t mind closing at all.”
Doolittle, who had 22 saves as the closer in 2014, said he’s healthy and ready to go. And while he hopes he’s in the mix for the closer role, “However it shakes out, you’re getting a really good, experienced guy in that role, and leading up to that (ninth inning). From the sixth inning on, you’ve got a closer-type guy coming into the game,” he said.
The fact that Madson and Casilla have been on championship teams — Casilla was part of all three recent Giants’ title teams — is a boost as well, Doolittle said.
“There’s a trickle-down effect to that. That’s going to help the whole team, not just the bullpen. Guys who have pitched into October and know what it takes to get to the World Series, they lead by example.”