SAN FRANCISCO — Pitching in the ballpark he called home the past seven years, Santiago Casilla’s final tune-up for the regular season was his sharpest outing yet.
The A’s reliever struck out Hunter Pence to strand a runner at third in his return to AT&T Park on Friday night. Upon entering the game in the fifth, the former Giant received a mixed reaction from the crowd of 42,403 — some cheers, some boos — then he proceeded to strike out two over his scoreless inning of work.
“When you pitch on a mound you pitched in (for so many years), you’re reminded of your moments and the time you spent here,” Casilla said after the A’s 2-1 defeat in game two of the Bay Bridge Series. “So every time I stepped on the mound, that time came back to me.”
He experienced terrific highs as a Giant — three World Series rings — but endured a sour ending to his San Francisco tenure with some well-publicized struggles last season as the closer. But from the outside looking in, Casilla’s return to AT&T Park seemed enjoyable.
He schmoozed with his old teammates before Thursday’s game. Later that night, he smiled and got a warm reception when he was shown on the JumboTron with the words “Forever Giant” underneath.
Casilla even took the mound Friday with his glove from last year, black with orange trim. He said a new glove that he’s still waiting to arrive will have a more A’s flavor.
The question looking forward is how Casilla fits into the A’s bullpen in his second tenure with Oakland. Manager Bob Melvin said he’ll meet with his relievers as a group Saturday to discuss roles, including who his closer will be. Certainly, Casilla is in that discussion along with last year’s primary closer, Ryan Madson. John Axford and Sean Doolittle also have closer’s experience.
Melvin was just happy to witness Casilla in sharp form Friday.
“He threw the ball real good,” the manager said. “That’s the best we’ve seen him throw it.”
Most important for the A’s, Casilla said he came out of the game OK physically after Melvin and head trainer Nick Paparesta visited him on the mound. He felt some tightness in his left leg but stayed in, saying afterward it was just a product of the cooler weather after pitching in Arizona.
Casilla spoke through interpreter Juan Dorado but said in English: “Not a big deal.”
Melvin wasn’t tipping his hand on the A’s final roster, but said he had a good idea of who his 25 guys are with final cuts looming after Saturday’s exhibition finale. Jaff Decker, very much on the roster bubble, made a great statement to be kept.
He entered Friday’s game in place of Rajai Davis in center and made a terrific diving catch to rob Chris Marrero in the seventh. He came up the next inning and delivered an RBI double that tied the game 1-1.
“Every opportunity you try to make the most of it,” Decker said.
A non-roster invitee to camp, Decker has impressed with the bat and glove. If the A’s keep seven relievers, he appears set to make the club as a fifth outfielder. If they keep an extra reliever, he’ll be squeezed out. The 27-year-old Decker has played parts of four seasons in the majors but never has made an Opening Day roster.
His catch on Marrero was sweet justice considering Marrero had stolen a hit from him with a diving catch Thursday.
“I kind of had a hit robbed last night so I really wanted to take one away,” Decker said. “It happened to be the same guy.”
Khris Davis went 0-for-3 as the designated hitter, his first game since March 22 due to a right quad injury. Melvin said Davis will play left Saturday just to get some outfield innings under his belt before Monday’s opener. He had orders to take it easy on the bases Friday.
His timing at the plate was “not as consistent as I want it to be, so it’s reps and a matter of time with that,” he said.