OAKLAND — Ryan Dull wasn’t searching for excuses after Tuesday’s game.
Ahead 0-2 on Danny Espinosa with two on and one out in the ninth, he tried to bury a slider and get the Angels second baseman to chase.
He didn’t get it low enough, and Espinosa launched a three-run homer that served the A’s a 7-6 loss, their first defeat of 2017 and along with it, their first heartbreaker.
The night before, Dull had struck out Espinosa using the same pitch.
“I gotta get it a little bit lower, especially with him. He hit 24 homers (last year) for a reason,” Dull said. “He’s got power. He can hit any pitch. You gotta execute a little bit better.”
If the ninth-inning homer was a shocker, the sight of Dull even taking the mound in the ninth to protect a 6-4 lead was a surprise too. He was manager Bob Melvin’s go-to man last year for sticky, mid-inning situations with runners on base, usually before the ninth inning.
But Ryan Madson had been used in the eighth inning, successfully navigating through the most dangerous part of the Angels’ lineup. Santiago Casilla, who got the save in Monday’s opener, was not available, according to Melvin. Sean Doolittle, who pitched two-thirds of an inning Monday, was not called upon.
John Axford, who like Doolittle has substantial closer’s experience, warmed up at one point in the game but has not been used yet in two games.
If you’re wondering how Casilla could be unavailable after one game of the season, that’s a fair question. You’ll recall he did get visited on the mound during Friday’s Bay Bridge Series exhibition for what was described as tightness in his left leg. He described it as minor at the time.
It’s also worth remember that Casilla missed nearly a full three weeks of spring training as his visa paperwork was held up in the Dominican Republic. Perhaps Melvin doesn’t want to use him on back-to-back nights early on. With three right-handed batters lined up to begin the ninth, it’s justifiable why Melvin wouldn’t call on Doolittle. He may just prefer Dull over Axford when Oakland has a lead. And let’s remember, Dull took the mound with a two-run cushion, not one.
As long as the A’s closer situation is shrouded in ambiguity, it leaves the door open for second-guessers.
“(Casilla) was down today,” Melvin said. “Madson pitched a good eighth. We were very comfortable with the matchups in the ninth for Ryan. It just didn’t work out. He made one bad pitch.”
Melvin said the eighth and ninth innings would be fluid with his bullpen. He might go to his top guy (all signs point to that being Madson right now) if the matchup calls for it in the eighth. And he’s said all along multiple people would get save opportunities.
That’s partly because Melvin believes strongly in his bullpen depth. But Oakland’s depth has not yet produced a hands-down, no-doubt candidate to close. The glass-is-half-full crowd can say having multiple closers gives a manager flexibility. The half-empty bunch says one reliever needs to emerge from the pack to establish a pecking order.
At any rate, Dull did notch three saves last season as a rookie. And he said he knew he was an option for possible ninth-inning duty Tuesday. He willingly accepted blame after the game.
“Just missed it by about an inch,” he said of his 0-2 slider to Espinosa. “That’s the game of baseball. It can be your night one night and the next night it can be the complete opposite.”