OAKLAND – This wasn’t the way the A’s wanted to show off their bullpen might, but then again, bright spots were tough to find Monday.
In a 4-3 Opening Night loss to the Chicago White Sox, the A’s could hang their hat on an excellent performance from their bullpen. Five relievers combined for 6 1/3 scoreless innings. That kept the game from taking an ugly turn once starter Rich Hill left after just 2 2/3 innings.
The A’s got aggressive in the offseason – with their free agent spending and with the trades they made – to improve their bullpen so they could better protect leads in the late innings. On Monday, they needed their relievers to pitch from behind just so they could stay within striking distance.
One after another, the quintet of Fernando Rodriguez, Ryan Dull, John Axford, Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle got the job done.
“They were terrific,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “… And Doolittle, that’s the best velocity we’ve seen out of him this year too.”
The A’s lefty closer hit 94 miles per hour with his fastball and got Austin Jackson to swing through two changeups, including one for strike three. Doolittle spent all spring trying to improve his slider and changeup after relying almost strictly on his fastball to this point in his career.
“The two changeups, whew,” catcher Stephen Vogt said. “It’s good to get swings and misses on those.”
A couple position-player injury updates:
Infielder Eric Sogard, on the 15-day disabled list with a neck strain, is recovering well. According to A’s head trainer Nick Paparesta, Sogard will probably take soft-toss swings in the cage Tuesday and could be taking batting practice by the end of the homestand Thursday. If all goes well, a minor league rehab assignment would follow.
The recovery for outfielder Sam Fuld, on the DL with a strained shoulder, isn’t quite so far along.
“We’re still trying to get the rotator cuff and shoulder strong enough to start some baseball activity,” Paparesta said.
When both Sogard and Fuld return at their respective timetables, the A’s will need to decide if they fit into the current roster, as both appeared on the roster bubble during spring training before their injuries. Sogard has minor league options remaining, Fuld does not, meaning the A’s would have to run Fuld through waivers before sending him to the minors if they chose that route.