OAKLAND — The A’s will open the season with an expanded eight-man bullpen that includes highly regarded prospect Frankie Montas in it.
That means a three-man bench to begin the season, with outfielder Jaff Decker getting the tough news that he’s being sent down to Triple-A Nashville. Daniel Coulombe also was kept in the bullpen as a second left-hander to join Sean Doolittle.
With a young and inexperienced rotation, manager Bob Melvin said the emphasis was on beefing up the relief corps to cover innings and protect those young arms in the rotation.
“You never know what kind of innings you’re going to get out of the complete group,” Melvin said before Saturday’s Bay Bridge series finale. “When you have someone like Frankie, who can give you multiple innings and was effective in what we’ve seen this spring, and he also pitched well enough to make the team, all those things considered, this is the route we’re going at least to start.”
Melvin said he didn’t know how long the A’s would stick with eight relievers, which leaves a lonely bench. The only reserves Melvin will have to call on are outfielder Mark Canha — who will platoon in right and be the primary backup center fielder — utility man Adam Rosales and catcher Josh Phegley.
If the A’s do add a position player at some point, surely Decker will get consideration, though he would need to be added to the 40-man roster. The journeyman made a strong push for a roster spot, hitting .313 in the spring. He made a diving catch Friday night in center and delivered a game-tying double.
“That was the hardest one,” Melvin said. “He did everything he could to make a team. Had we not gone with eight relievers he would have been on the team, and I told him that. I’d be surprised if he’s not here at some point.”
The upshot is the A’s saw too much potential and talent in the 24-year-old Montas not to include him on the Opening Night roster. Acquired in the Rich Hill/Josh Reddick trade with the Dodgers last summer, Montas dominated during the Arizona Fall League and has continued to impress in spring training, allowing just one run in 11 2/3 innings (0.77 ERA).
Montas has eclipsed 100 miles per hour with his fastball, and Melvin likes what he’s seen from Montas’ breaking stuff as well. He’ll be slated for likely multi-inning stints, as the A’s like the idea of an overpowering reliever who can go through a batting order more than one time if needed.
“It’s kind of a unique arm,” Melvin said.
He reiterated that the A’s still view Montas as a potential starter. But because he pitched so little last year due to injuries, the A’s will keep Montas on an innings limit this season, which plays into their willingness to use him in relief.
Though Melvin talked to his relievers about roles Saturday morning, he still isn’t announcing publicly who his closer will be.
“We’ll play it by ear,” he said. “I’m not going to say, ‘This is the guy that’s gonna close.’ We’ll see come Opening Day who’s gonna be out there for the ninth inning. It might have a little bit to do with matches too.”
Ryan Madson is the incumbent closer from last season. Santiago Casilla has expressed his eagerness to pitch in the ninth also. Both posted 30-save seasons in 2016.
Asked if Montas could possibly be used in a shorter late-inning role with his stuff, Melvin didn’t shoot down that possibility at some point.
“It is tempting, but we have a pretty deep veteran bullpen,” he said. “(But) you never know how things play out.”