A’s new bullpen shows they can hold down the fort, going 6.1 scoreless innings in season opener
The Oakland Athletics continued an unfortunate trend in Monday night’s opener, one that had plagued them all last season. They lost by a single run.
There were, however, quite a few differences than the one-run losses they suffered all of last season. The main difference? The A’s bullpen.
Monday night, despite the A’s loss, the bullpen was a joy to behold for anyone who had seen the mess that it had been in 2015. It’s just one night and a small sample size but it was what the A’s were hoping to see when they revamped their bullpen over the offseason.
Starter Rich Hill made it through just 2.2 innings before leaving the rest of the game up to the bullpen and the White Sox with a 4-0 lead. The bullpen went on to collectively throw 6.1 scoreless innings allowing just four more hits.
In 2015 the Oakland bullpen was one that was not only the worst in the league but that was charged with 31 of the team’s 94 losses. Many were unsure of the way the A’s completely revamped their bullpen over the offseason but it certainly couldn’t have been left the way it had been, even with the return of a potentially healthy closer in Sean Doolittle.
The A’s added Liam Hendriks in a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays and lefty-specialist Marc Rzepczynski in a trade with the San Diego Padres, keeping only Fernando Rodriguez and Doolittle from the 2015 team.
Rodriguez came into the game first to relieve Hill. He pitched 1.1 innings allowing just a hit and striking out one. The bullpen did not allow a walk all game.
Rookie Ryan Dull, who pitched two hitless innings Monday night coming in in relief of Rodriguez, earned his way into the bullpen with brilliant performances in September and this spring.
Next up in the game was one of the A’s bigger signings of the offseason in veteran reliever John Axford, who came in in relief of Dull. The A’s signed Axford as a free agent to a two-year $10 million contract back in December.
Axford pitched an inning, allowing two hits but left the game unscathed with the score still 4-3 in favor of the White Sox. Now it was time for another new member of the Athletics to make his much anticipated debut in the eighth inning.
The A’s got mixed reviews when they signed 35-year-old free agent, Ryan Madson to a three-year deal worth $22 million, making him one of the team’s highest paid players. Most criticized or were perplexed by the signing of Madson to such a long and expensive deal.
Giving three years to an older player does seem risky especially since Madson had three seasons away from the game due to injury, but those three years were also years that didn’t put extra miles on his arm.
Madson had nine successful years with the Philadelphia Phillies posting a 3.60 ERA while averaging 78 innings pitched per season, prior to his injury in 2012. He’d also spent a successful year as the Phillies closer in 2011 accruing 32 saves in 34 save opportunities.
Closing experience was a valuable commodity that Oakland was seeking in a potential set up man after having Doolittle out for all but 12 appearances in 2015.
Axford too has had important closing experience in his past. He led the National League in saves with 46 in 48 opportunities in 2011 while with the Milwaukee Brewers. However, while Axford, who turned 33 on April 1, stayed in the game the past few seasons, Madson had not, making Madson’s signing that much more questionable.
Madson reemerged in the game in 2015 winning his second World Series Championship with the Kansas City Royals. He also posted the lowest ERA of his career at 2.13 over 63.1 innings pitched.
On Monday night he played the role he was brought into play for Oakland. He set the stage for Doolittle pitching a practically perfect inning, retiring three batters on just eight pitches.
Doolittle pitched the top of the ninth inning for the A’s, looking like his 2014 All-Star caliber self. He faced four batters, picking up a strikeout and allowing a single to former teammate Brett Lawrie. Doolittle later picked off Lawrie for the third out of the inning.
Although the A’s ultimately took the loss, this time it couldn’t be attributed to their bullpen. It’s a small sample size, that’s certainly true. Yet despite the loss, the A’s actually got a glimpse of what their new bullpen can do and it was definitely a win.