Programming note: Rangers-A’s coverage starts Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. with A’s Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet California
Coming off an uplifting series victory in Seattle, one of the A’s most encouraging developments over the weekend was the work of their bullpen.
With closer Sean Doolittle back in the mix after a nearly three-week stay on the disabled list, the relief crew was sharp in finishing off a 3-2, 10-inning win Saturday and a 4-0 victory Sunday.
Doolittle’s return from a strained side muscle not only gives manager Bob Melvin his top option in save situations, it restores order to all of the bullpen roles leading up to Doolittle entering the game.
“You lose the closer, and everybody’s kind of up in the air,” A’s starting pitcher Jon Lester said. “You don’t know who’s going to do the job. Who’s gonna do the seventh? Who’s gonna do the eighth? Just from being around bullpen guys for a long time, I know they care a lot more about what their role is than how they’re pitching.
[REWIND: Moss, A's get up off canvas in Seattle]
“As long as they know their role, they feel comfortable and are able to go out and do their job. So having (Doolittle) back solidifies that back end and everybody else just kind of falls into place from there.”
With Doolittle available, Dan Otero knows he’s likely to handle the seventh inning if the A’s have a lead, and Luke Gregerson can get prepared for the eighth.
And though Doolittle set the Mariners down in order in each of his outings Saturday and Sunday, the work turned in ahead of him was every bit as crucial. With Saturday’s game tied 2-2, Gregerson entered in the ninth and retired Seattle’s 2-3-4 hitters in order, setting the stage for the A’s go-ahead rally in the top of the 10th.
Otero was protecting a 2-0 lead in the seventh inning Sunday when he put runners on second and third with no outs and the top of the order coming up for the Mariners. Otero retired Austin Jackson on a grounder to first, then struck out pinch hitter Michael Saunders. After intentionally walking Robinson Cano to load the bases, Otero escaped the inning by getting Kendrys Morales on a fly out to left.
The A’s parlayed that momentum into a two-run rally in the eighth that padded their lead.
Otero was asked afterward what ran through his mind after he escaped that jam.
“How did I do that?” he said with amusement. “No, it shows me that Melvin had a lot of confidence in that situation, leaving me out there and letting me wiggle out of it.”
But Doolittle’s presence holds the key for a bullpen that carries a 2.81 ERA, third-best in all of the majors. He threw off the mound just twice before being activated from the D.L. on Friday, but he was eager to rejoin the A’s as they fight to secure a wild card spot over the final two weeks of the regular season.
A three-game series against Texas begins Tuesday at the Coliseum.
“You know, it’s a weird dynamic (being on the D.L.),” Doolittle said. “You’re still technically a part of the team but you feel so helpless. I’m excited to be able to help out again.”