SEATTLE –- Ryan Madson got the save Friday night for the A’s, and perhaps that creates the meatiest storyline involving the bullpen.
However, to focus on any one individual reliever who shined in Oakland’s 3-2 victory over the Mariners is to miss the point. The A’s wouldn’t have claimed the opener of this three-game series without the collective efforts of every pitcher who trotted in from beyond the left field fence at Safeco Field.
Madson nailed things down in the ninth, and he now has saved both of the A’s wins. But it was Sean Doolittle who took down the heart of Seattle’s order in the eighth after issuing a leadoff walk. And long before he took the mound, it was Fernando Rodriguez who entered the tightest of jams in the fifth, relieving starter Eric Surkamp with the score tied, runners on the corners with one out and Mariners cleanup man Nelson Cruz digging in.
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Rodriguez induced a 6-4-3 double play to preserve the tie, which Chris Coghlan eventually broke with a ninth-inning homer to sink the home team before the largest regular-season crowd ever at Safeco Field.
“He’s the guy,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said of Rodriguez. “It’s either he or Ryan (Dull) coming in with traffic out there, and that’s the toughest role. … For me, that guy that comes in with guys on base that picks up the starter probably has the toughest job.”
The A’s bullpen deservedly took a heaping helping of blame for last season’s 68-94 record. So far this season, the relievers have allowed just five earned runs over 20 1/3 innings (2.21 ERA).
There appears to be several interchangeable pieces, and interchangeable is the best way to describe the closer situation right now. Madson has both of the team’s saves so far – his first on Wednesday came with Doolittle unavailable after throwing back-to-back nights. Doolittle entered the season with the closer label, but Friday, Melvin wanted the left-hander for the eighth with switch hitter Ketel Marte leading off and two dangerous lefties – Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager – awaiting over a three-batter span.
Doolittle walked Marte but then he retired Cano on a fly to left. He sawed off Cruz on a weak foul pop and got Seager on a fly to center. In a great sign for the A’s, his fastball repeatedly hit 95 on the stadium radar gun.
“After the inning, he told me he knew he was gonna have the eighth,” Melvin said. “It’s great that you have a true closer who will do that for you to get the best matchups for the team.”
Madson displayed nasty stuff in the ninth, and he made sure the A’s bagged a ‘W’ in their latest nail-biter. Four of the A’s first five games have been one-run affairs. They’re 2-2 in those games.
Each time they pull out a close one, it builds confidence for a team that was stung by an Oakland record 35 one-run defeats last season.
“I’m so glad we’re turning the page on last year,” Coghlan said. “That’s tired, that’s over. You’ve gotta let it go. I know I wasn’t here for all the broken hearts. Last year has nothing to do with this year. It’s a new year and I feel like our bullpen has been lights-out every game.”