OAKLAND -– The roller coaster ride continues for the A’s bullpen, with a reliever or two finding their rhythm just about the time someone else experiences a nose dive.
There was a point earlier this season when Evan Scribner was the most reliable relief option that manager Bob Melvin had. Now it’s a different story, and Scribner is one of those guys searching for answers.
The right-hander served up a pair of two-run homers in the eighth inning Friday, and a close game turned ugly for the A’s in a 9-5 loss to the Seattle Mariners.
Not that this one hangs solely on Scribner. Starting pitcher Jesse Chavez gave up a pair of two-run shots himself over 6 1/3 innings, part of a 13-hit attack for the Mariners. But this had the feeling of a winnable game until things unraveled in the eighth.
[STIGLICH: Instant Replay: A's bombed by Mariners, lose 9-5]
The A’s trailed 4-3 when Scribner took over for Eric O’Flaherty with a runner on. He got ahead 0-2 on Nelson Cruz but caught too much plate with a cutter, and Cruz banged it out to right-center to make it 6-3. Later in the inning, Scribner hung a curve to Brad Miller that got deposited for another two-run shot.
Scribner’s nine home runs allowed are most among American League relievers, and six of those have come in his past nine outings, tracing back to the middle of June.
“When I first started struggling in Anaheim, it was my fastball location,” he said. “I lost it for about a week, then I think I tried to overcompensate with my offspeed stuff. Everybody was just sitting on that. If I work on my fastball location, then everything else will come back.”
Scribner posted a 1.10 ERA over his first 14 outings. As his bullpen mates struggled, he ascended into an eighth-inning setup role in front of closer Tyler Clippard. Melvin, searching for any kind of effective late-inning combo, went to Scribner often. But over his past 24 contests, dating back to early May, Scribner has posted a 4.56 ERA.
“That’s just the life of a reliever,” Scribner said of the difficult ebb and flow.
It’s also life in the A’s bullpen, a constantly shuffling mix of pitchers trying to find their niche. Melvin talked before Friday’s game about how guys perhaps are beginning to settle into roles. Drew Pomeranz has emerged as an effective late-inning option, able to handle multiple innings. With his experience, Edward Mujica is someone else Melvin is turning to in the late innings.
O’Flaherty, who did well to strand a runner at third in the seventh, is another reliever Melvin hopes puts together some sustained success.
Scribner, whose 39 appearances are tied for the most in the AL, says his arm feels fine. Melvin is trying to use him in lower-pressure situations, earlier in games or when the A’s are behind, to see if he can regain some confidence.
“At this point we have the guys that are pitching in plus games (A’s leading), and some other guys pitching in down games,” Melvin said. “And he has the ability to pitch very well for us. He’s just going through a tough time.”
It’s clear that the A’s won’t make their move in the AL West unless their bullpen figures things out as a unit, avoiding the untimely meltdowns. Scribner was at the center of Friday’s late-game adventures, but he’s hardly been the only one searching for answers.