SAN FRANCISCO – The A’s new set-up men haven’t drawn a whole lot of attention to themselves this spring.
So automatic have John Axford and Ryan Madson been in exhibitions that their work often goes unnoticed. Only a look at the box score shows their excellence.
Both veterans, signed to free agent contracts in the offseason, were sharp in firing scoreless innings in the A’s 3-0 loss to the Giants in the second game of the Bay Bridge Series. Axford hasn’t allowed a run in any of his nine outings; Madson is unscored upon in all eight of his appearances.
The assumed plan looking ahead to the regular season has been for Axford to handle the seventh and Madson to work the eighth to carry a lead to closer Sean Doolittle in the ninth. But manager Bob Melvin’s use of his late-inning trio Friday might have given a clue that there’s some fluidity to the situation.
Axford came on in relief of Kendall Graveman for his one inning, and it was interesting that Doolittle then was called upon to pitch an inning before handing the ball over to Madson. It obviously wasn’t a save situation with the A’s trailing. But with Madson pitching lights-out so far and having closed in the past for the Philadelphia Phillies, and Doolittle still getting his full velocity back and working to refine his secondary pitches, it’s worth considering whether Melvin might call on Madson to nail down games in the ninth on occasion if the situation is right.
Addressing reporters after the game, Melvin only said that matchups dictated his bullpen use Friday.
“I would have to talk to our guys first before I commit to something like that,” Melvin said of ever changing the sequence of using his late-inning relievers. “And we’ll talk as a group on Opening Day when we have our advance meetings.”
Doolittle gave up a run on two hits in the seventh, and he’s allowed at least one run in four of his seven outings. But he’s also gotten some outs with both his slider and changeup on occasion, and on Friday his fastball touched 94 miles per hour.
It’s well known that the A’s mix and match with their lineup plenty depending on whether the opponent starts a righty or lefty on the mound. Perhaps there will be some mixing and matching with the bullpen too.
Graveman gave up two runs in the first on Buster Posey’s double down the left-field line, but then settled in and kept the Giants off the board until leaving after the fifth. He gave up four hits, struck out four and walked two.
“I was throwing all four pitches for strikes,” Graveman said. “As long as I can do that and keep all four in the zone and throw them in any count … being able to throw cutters and breaking balls and changeups on 3-2 is huge.”
Graveman finished with a 4.73 ERA in six appearances (five starts) during the spring, but his stuff seemed to round into form over his last two outings.
Infielder Eric Sogard was originally going to start at shortstop Friday, but he woke up with a sore neck in the morning and was held out. Marcus Semien started at short instead and top prospect Franklin Barreto was summoned from minor league camp in Arizona for depth. Barreto arrived to AT&T Park shortly after the game started and wound up playing a couple innings.
Sogard also battled a leg issue recently that limited his activity but that’s no longer the case. Melvin said he didn’t know if the neck issue was enough to land Sogard on the disabled list to start the season or not. As the roster is shaping up, the veteran is looking like a candidate to perhaps start the season with Triple-A Nashville. In that scenario, second baseman Jed Lowrie would serve as the backup shortstop.
Coco Crisp, who missed the previous three games with a tight hamstring, started in center and went 1-for-4.