MESA, Ariz. – The A’s bullpen, which appeared to have a plethora of shutdown arms as spring training approached, now is looking down the totem pole for options.
Closer Sean Doolittle is likely to miss all of April while recovering from a shoulder injury, a situation that has been clear for a while. But Tuesday’s demotion of Ryan Cook leaves another hole to fill in the late-inning relief picture.
Others will have to step up. Dan Otero figures to move up into the right-handed setup role with Cook’s absence, and Melvin confirmed that young right-hander R.J. Alvarez could factor in somewhere in Oakland’s bullpen.
Otero has taken on an increasingly prominent role since joining the A’s in 2013. He’s proved extremely versatile, serving as a setup man and middle reliever, pitching the ninth inning on occasion and eating up innings in long relief when needed.
“He’s just moved himself up into a guy that’s one of the best at what he does,” Melvin said Wednesday morning. “He’s a jack-of-all-trades down there.”
The 23-year-old Alvarez, acquired from San Diego along with starter Jesse Hahn for Derek Norris, made his major league debut with 10 appearances last September. He features a fastball that hits the high 90’s and a slider that’s still a work in progress. But he’s held opponents to a .167 batting average in seven spring appearances, and the A’s obviously believe he’s ready to contribute at the major league level.
Melvin, careful not to proclaim that Alvarez has a spot on the 25-man roster, didn’t count him out as an option for setup duty. But he said that partly depends on how Otero is used. Also worth noting, Eric O’Flaherty – slated for left-handed setup duty – is someone the A’s are comfortable using against lefties or righties.
Melvin expressed confidence in the current crop of relievers at his disposal.
“Every year we try to increase the depth, especially the pitching depth,” he said. “And we have a lot of it there. We’re comfortable with what we have. Is it at full strength? No -- without Doolittle and without Cookie performing the way he usually does. But we like the depth we have.”
Speaking of Doolittle, who’s recovering from a slight rotator cuff tear, the lefty could try playing catch by the end of the week.
Melvin said the A’s training staff believes Coco Crisp may have a bone chip or two that have been floating around his right elbow for years, causing the discomfort that’s limited him to 15 spring at-bats. Crisp received an injection in the elbow Tuesday and is likely to miss at least the next few days. Melvin said he could tell from the look on Crisp’s face while he was taking batting practice Tuesday that something was bothering him.
Despite that, Melvin did not express great concern about his left fielder and leadoff man.
“It’s all about him being ready for Opening Day,” the manager said. “He’s one of the guys I’m not worried about getting 50-plus, 60 plate appearances. If we can have him ready for Opening Day, that’ll mean it’s been a successful spring with him.”