Oakland Athletics

Oakland A’s bullpen is a dumpster fire

Yesterday the A’s won a series for the first time in what seems like ages when they beat the Rangers in Arlington, 7-1. Sonny Gray was again outstanding for the Green & Gold, winning his fourth game against zero defeats in this young season. Oakland’s Opening Day starter has only given up one earned run in four career starts at Globe Life Park, all of which he has won. There’s certainly nothing wrong with Gray’s 1.67 ERA or fellow starter Scott Kazmir’s 1.62. In fact, the A’s starting rotation continues to lead the league in ERA, with help from Jesse Hahn’s 2.86 and Jesse Chavez’s 2.55. It’s the bullpen which has been the true Achilles’ Heel for the A’s this season.

It’s doesn’t help that Oakland has played horrendous defense this season. Their 22 errors are second-worst in the AL, with the outfield committing an MLB-high nine miscues. But the A’s showed last season they were capable of overcoming their subpar defense – it wasn’t a backbreaker. A horrendous bullpen, however, is a black hole from which there can be no escape. The way the relievers are set up right now, it’s a nonstop parade of men carrying large drums of gasoline, eager to pour the contents upon the pyre of a heretofore competitive game. Billy Beane has given Bob Melvin a clown car with an interchangeable corps of faceless failures. Harsh? Eight losses by the A’s bullpen leads the solar system in putridity. Perfectly fine games have been needlessly dragged to the recycle icon by a troupe of Eastern European hackers disguised as relief pitchers.

Let’s take a closer look:

— Fernando Abad is a southpaw specialist who had a .191 batting-average-against last year versus left-handed hitters. This season lefties are batting over .400 against him.

— Eric O’Flaherty, another lefty who had a 2.25 ERA in 21 games last season is now on the DL with a shoulder strain. He was beyond awful in his eight games so far this year, sporting an unsightly ERA of 11.57.

— Ryan Cook, former All-Star closer with Oakland, didn’t make the team out of camp after a terrible Cactus League. When I asked Melvin about “Cookie” when the A’s were in Las Vegas this spring, he told me that his pitches were mostly up and over the middle of the plate. Cook was recalled on April 26th when starter Kendall Graveman took his 8.27 ERA to AAA. Cook only lasted five games. He gave up a leadoff double and walked the next two batters in the bottom of the 10th at Texas on Saturday, and took the loss when R.J. Alvarez gave up a single to score the winning run. Cook went back to Nashville yesterday.

— Alvarez made the team out of camp but was sent to AAA on April 23 with a 12.00 ERA. He was recalled on Saturday when O’Flaherty went on the DL.

— Chris Bassitt, normally a starter, was added to the bullpen from AAA on April 23. His ERA sits at 3.68 in three appearances.

— Arnold Leon made a one-inning, big league cameo two weeks ago. His ERA is 9.00.

— Chad Smith, cut by Detroit in the winter after having a 5+ ERA for them last season, was called up yesterday and in his A’s debut also pitched one inning for an ERA of 9.00.

— Rubber-armed Dan Otero is showing signs of returning to being reliable again. Last season he was outstanding with a 2.28 ERA in an unbelievable 72 appearances. He leads the staff in games pitched with 13 and his ERA is down to 4.38, still quite high but dropping fast.

— Closer Tyler Clippard has a 2.61 ERA in 10 appearances but hasn’t had many opportunities to get saves while Sean Doolittle remains shelved.

— Evan Scribner has been the only reliever so far who has done a tremendous job. His 12 appearances with a 1.17 ERA is more than anyone could have expected. He made the team out of camp because he pitched well but mostly because he was out of options and the A’s wanted to hold on to him. His cutter has been a reliable and very effective weapon for him to this point. All this from a guy who had been a yo-yo between the Coliseum and AAA the last three years, sporting a 2014 ERA of 4.63. A’s fans hope he’s not just another “Mr. April.”

Working the pre- and post-game shows for 95.7 The Game this weekend, I received several calls and texts from agitated fans who were looking for solutions to the bullpen’s woes. At this point the cupboard is mostly bare – they will have to ride it out and hope for a rapid turnaround of fortunes. The ambidextrous Pat Venditte is the only Nashville reliever who is performing at a high level. And Barry Zito is not the answer, as some suggested to me. He needs to stay stretched out at Nashville and his AAA line of 0-2, 5.96, won’t get him a plane ticket anytime soon.

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