MESA, Ariz. –- With four new relievers in the bullpen this season, a challenge for A’s manager Bob Melvin is sorting out which roles fit for which pitchers in the late innings.
The topic of bullpen roles came up often last season, as Oakland had so many relievers struggle in setup-type situations that it was impossible for Melvin to call on the same guys consistently. This year he’s got a veteran-laden bullpen, with free-agent newcomers John Axford and Ryan Madson headlining the cast expected to set up for closer Sean Doolittle.
Melvin says he has an idea now of how he wants to slot guys, though he wouldn't reveal his plan.
“There are a lot of things that play into it,” Melvin said Wednesday. “Are guys on base? Who’s having more success with guys on base? Maybe who’s a little quicker to the plate.”
Axford and Madson both are hard-throwing right-handers who have closer’s experience in the event something happens to Doolittle. It figues that one of those guys will be the primary eighth-inning man and the other available for the seventh.
“Veteran guys like to know what innings they pitch,” Melvin said. “They would prefer to know when the phone rings who’s gonna pitch that time. And I don’t blame them.”
Also fitting into the mix somehow will be newcomer Liam Hendriks, another high-velocity right-hander. Marc Rzepczynski, the fourth new addition, is likely targeted for a lefty specialist role, though Melvin says he’d have confidence leaving the southpaw in for a right-hander on occasion.
STOCK RISING: Fernando Rodriguez, a returning bullpen piece, earned praise from Melvin on Wednesday. Rodriguez relies predominantly on his mid-90's fastball, but also has a slider and curve that Melvin thinks could become bigger weapons this season.
Rodriguez has taken on an increased role in the 'pen since returning from Tommy John surgery, which sidelined him for all of 2013. Just 13.3 percent of inherited runners scored off Rodriguez last season, tied for the best percentage in the AL.
“He had a good year for us last year and I expect him to take a step forward this year,” Melvin said.
Fellow reliever Angel Castro, who spent time with the big club late in 2015, also drew praise for his bullpen session Wednesday.
BEST SHAPE OF HIS LIFE: Kendall Graveman is expected to be a part of this year’s rotation based on the promise he showed in 2015. The 25-year-old right-hander was in sharp form off the mound Wednesday, and Melvin added:
“He’s never been out of shape, but I think physically it’s the best I’ve seen him look.”
ODDS AND ENDS: The A’s will hold simulated (read: intrasquad) games on March 1 and 2, according to Melvin. Those are expected to take place at the minor league facility down the street from Hohokam Stadium. They are open to the public but no start times have been set yet. … Second baseman Jed Lowrie arrived in camp Wednesday, leaving outfielder Sam Fuld as the only veteran player left to check in as full-squad reporting day is Thursday. Fuld is spending a little extra time with his wife, who is due to give birth in a few weeks.