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Game #50: A’s bullpen game worked (again!)

For the third time in a week the A’s bullpen stole the show

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Toronto Blue Jays John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

It was the third time in a week that the A’s relievers were the stars of the game. Last Thursday in Toronto, when Andrew Triggs had to leave the game due to injury with one out in the second inning, the bullpen pitched almost a full eight innings leading the A’s to victory. The next day — they did it again! — Brett Anderson had to leave the game (as usual) because of injury, after (again) 2.1 innings pitched, defeating the Blue Jays for the second straight day.

Those games were unplanned, however, today’s game was a conscious decision made by the team. And no, they weren’t stealing the idea from the Tampa Bay Rays, who started their closer in two games over the weekend against the Los Angeles Angels. Besides, who knows if the team will end up playing another bullpen game again this season or ever? Playing a bullpen game was simply the best chance the A’s had at winning today’s game against the Seattle Mariners.

A’s Offense vs. King Felix:

The A’s got all four of their runs off of an understandably slowed-down King Felix Hernandez. Most seasons he’s always seemed to have the A’s number but he’s been in the majors now 14 seasons, in eight of which he pitched well over 200 innings. The Cy Young Award winner and six-time All-Star was spent time on the disabled list for the first time in his career in 2017 and this year is already sporting an ERA over 5.00.

The A’s led off the bottom of the first inning with a pair of singles by Matt Joyce and Marcus Semien and Semien was able to advance to second on the throw. Immediately the A’s were in control with runners on second and third with nobody out. Joyce scored on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Jed Lowrie. Hernandez was able to get one of his just two strikeouts on the day, but Matt Olson made him work for it in a six pitch at-bat (his other strikeout victim was Semien in the bottom of the fifth). Next up Matt Chapman drew a walk and a double by Stephen Piscotty would plate both Semien and Chapman. Dustin Fowler drove in the fourth run — and final of the game for the A’s — with a single to left. Finally, after throwing 31 pitches to start off his day, Hernandez got Mark Canha to ground out to end the inning with the A’s now up 4-1.

The A’s were lucky to able to score early off of Hernandez. Neither he nor Mariners’ bullpen, which is ranked fifth in the American League, kept the boys in green and gold hit-less the remainder of the game. Some of familiar faces pitched out of the bullpen for the Mariners, including former A’s Ryan Cook and Mark Rzepczynski.

The Bullpen Game:

Josh Lucas started for Oakland, it was his first start since he was in the minors in 2013. He did about as well as was needed, but did throw a lot of pitches early. Lucas made it through two innings throwing 53 pitches, allowing two runs on three hits, walking three and getting one strikeout. Next up for the A’s was Chris Hatcher, whose been a bit shaky this season but nevertheless threw two scoreless innings. The jack of all trades, Yusmeiro Petit, went a full three innings without allowing a run, collecting four strikeouts and the win, along the way. Lou Trivino relieved Petit but ran into a bit of jam, allowing a run to score after allowing a single to Juan Segura, a walk to Guillermo Heredia and another single to Nelson Cruz.

With two outs in the eighth, A’s skipper Bob Melvin called for Blake Treinen. Getting the last four or five outs is not an unusual occurrence for the A’s closer. Treinen did allow an RBI double to Kyle Seager but he had inherited the runner so it was Trivino who was charged with the run. He went on to end the inning and pitch a beautiful one-two-three top of the ninth, earning his 11th save of the season.

The Mariners were only able to manage to put three runs on the board against the A’s relief corps. All of whom have been stellar the past week — picking up the slack for both Triggs and Anderson who are now on the disabled list. It begs the question — Could the A’s do this often and use just three or four starters the rest of the season? It’s highly unlikely, but the fact that they collectively pitched 26.1 innings in the three games they basically won all on their own is pretty incredible. It says a lot about the makeup of the A’s bullpen with so many relievers able to pitch multiple innings. Petit and Treinen were the standouts over the last week’s three bullpen games.

The A’s relievers were able to get some rest, however, with an off-day on Monday. Plus, they got three stellar seven-inning performances Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday by Daniel Mengden, Trevor Cahill and Daniel Gossett, respectively. It should be interesting to see if the team decides to add another starter and still use the bullpen game strategy (which for the A’s is a bit different than it is for the Rays) or not. So far it has worked and it could continue to work, perhaps if they keep Gossett or bring back Kendall Graveman as a fourth starter — but over the course of an entire season? Well, it’s never been tried before but it could end up burning out the entire bullpen.

Surprise! The A’s defense was great (again!):

The A’s defense has been atrocious this season (and in previous ones as well) but it appears to be turning things around — despite Wednesday’s loss the outfield was on fire on the field. Today the A’s infielders turned five double plays and, for the first time this season, the A’s did not commit a single error. We’ll find out tomorrow when the Arizona Diamondbacks come to town for a bit of interleague play if they can keep their new error-less game streak alive.

The A’s bullpen came through this afternoon, keeping the Mariners to just three runs and thankfully avoiding a sweep. The team really needs to step up against the other teams in the AL West. They can beat powerhouse teams like the New York Yankees and the Red Sox. Yet, when playing the Astros, Angels, Mariners and Rangers the A’s are 10-19. That is something that has got to change if the A’s want to improve their record and standing in the division from that of the last couple of seasons.