Casilla joins A's, but where does he fit in the bullpen?

Casilla joins A's, but where does he fit in the bullpen?

MESA, Ariz. — Santiago Casilla walked through the A’s clubhouse Sunday morning shaking hands one-by-one and saying hello to his new teammates.

Time will tell whether he inserts himself into the A’s closer conversation.

Nearly three weeks after Oakland’s pitchers and catchers reported to camp, Casilla arrived from the Dominican Republic, his visa problems finally in the rear-view mirror.

He didn’t close the door on pitching in the World Baseball Classic, though he wouldn’t potentially join the Dominican squad until the second round of the tournament. And even then, several factors will come into play:

What kind of pitching shape is his arm in? How badly would his national team need him? And what do the A’s have to say about it?

“I’m going to skip the first round and leave the door open,” Casilla said through interpreter Juan Dorado. “Obviously if the team makes it to the second round and the finals, I’ll see how I feel.”

A’s manager Bob Melvin also left the door open.

“That’ll come into play with how we proceed with him,” Melvin said regarding the WBC. “But if that’s something he still potentially wants to do, we’re supportive of it.”

The storyline closer to home is how quickly Casilla gets himself into game shape and what role he eventually assumes in his second stint as an Athletic.

He left the A’s after the 2009 season, a work-in-progress still trying to harness his command on the mound. He returns as a 36-year-old veteran with three World Series rings from his time with the Giants. During those seven seasons, Casilla registered 25-plus saves three times, but he also endured a stormy ending to his tenure there, expressing hurt feelings when he was passed over for relief duty in last fall’s Game 4 loss to the Cubs that ended the National League Division Series.

He says he doesn’t draw motivation in trying to prove the Giants wrong for not trying to re-sign him.

“I know what kind of pitcher I am and I know what I need to do,” Casilla said. “Obviously they didn’t feel the need to sign me anymore, and I’m just happy to be here with the A’s. I feel like they have a bigger need for me here.”

There’s a fit for him somewhere in Oakland’s bullpen. The question is where.

Melvin says he hasn’t decided on a closer and hasn’t discussed specific roles with his relievers. For now, he just wants to ease Casilla into the mix. The right-hander threw a short bullpen session Sunday morning, and Melvin said Casilla would probably throw another one before any decisions are made to get him in a game.

Ryan Madson notched 30 saves last season, but he also tied for the AL’s second-most blown saves with seven. Casilla saved 31 games last year but tied for the major league lead with nine blown opportunities. John Axford and Sean Doolittle also are ninth-inning options for Melvin, who has stated he’s likely to use multiple guys in save situations depending on matchups and who needs rest.

“Ryan Madson certainly didn’t do anything that would suggest he’s not the closer, but we have a different complement of guys now, especially with Santiago,” Melvin said. “Right now, all these guys are just about getting ready for the season, and they’ve all stated to me they’re open to just about anything. They just want to win.”

While throwing in the Dominican Republic to keep his arm in shape, Casilla also took time to talk to the A’s young prospects based at their academy in that country. His advice extended beyond baseball, especially in light of the recent fatal car accidents in the Dominican that killed Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura and former major league infielder Andy Marte.

“I know what it’s like to have money and be rich and famous,” Casilla said. “But I wanted to talk to them about that time in their lives, talking to them about driving and being more responsible when they’re behind the wheel and also potentially under the influence. I just wanted to reiterate that you’re not invincible.”


The A’s made their first cuts of spring training, reassigning right-handed pitchers Michael Brady, Trey Cochran-Gill, Heath Fillmyer, Tucker Healy, Aaron Kurcz and Josh Smith to minor league camp. That leaves the A’s with 64 players in camp.

A's on verge of AL playoff spot thanks to three surprising rookies

A's on verge of AL playoff spot thanks to three surprising rookies

OAKLAND -- A grounds crew tractor prepared the Coliseum infield Saturday evening. Shadow slowly overtook the pitcher's mound, and made its way towards second base. The mesmerizing ritual of dragging the infield dirt smooth is an art form performed 81 times per year here

It’s no easy task prepping a big-league diamond, but it’s always done to perfection at the Coliseum, regardless of the quality of team taking the field. 

A clean infield might be the only thing that was truly expected this season from the A’s. The crowd is hit-and-miss, depending on the day of the week. The stadium is well known for its faulty plumbing. And the team?

The prevailing thought coming into the season was that maybe they were a year or two away from competing, and that was before the Tommy John Fairy came to visit the pitching staff.

Call it kismet. Call it an anomaly. Call it whatever you want, but the Oakland Athletics are the best story of the 2018 MLB season. They're an unbelievable 60-25 record since June 16.

There is a randomness to this campaign in Oakland. They knew they had young players ready to blossom at the corner infield spots. The production from veterans Jed Lowrie and Khris Davis was also something manager Bob Melvin could pencil in. The bullpen coming out of spring training was also a strength, but there were plenty of other question marks.

With seven games remaining in the season, the A’s are a game away from clinching an improbable American League playoff berth and they couldn’t have done it without some surprise contributors. 

“It’s a combination of young talent with veteran players that are producing at a high level,” Lowrie told NBC Sports California. “You can’t fake talent over the course of 162 games.”

Davis is in the conversation for AL MVP, while Lowrie has set new highs in home runs and RBI in his 11th season in the bigs.

Blake Treinen is 9-2 with 37 saves and a 0.81 ERA. He’s one of the most dominant closers in the game, and will receive votes for the Cy Young.

Matt Chapman has walked away with the Gold Glove at third base and Matt Olson has 27 home runs at first. 

So many more have played well, but the A's would not be where they are without some surprises.

Lou Trivino made the club out of camp and -- outside of some recent hiccups -- he’s been about as important as any other player on the roster. Since getting a call-up in early August, Ramón Laureano is turning heads with both his play in center and his approach at the plate. And then there’s a 28-year-old rookie, Nick Martini, batting leadoff and playing left field after toiling in the minors for eight seasons.

“You need contributions like that from guys that you don’t expect,” Melvin said Saturday evening, ahead of a wild A's win. “You want your key guys to have good years or close to their numbers, but when you have guys that can come in that you didn’t expect, that makes your team that much better.”

Trivino's struggles are blips on the radar. Before the A’s stockpiled arms like Fernando Rodney, Jeurys Familia and Shawn Kelley around the trade deadline, the 26-year-old rookie was Oakland’s setup man. In the first half of the season, Trivino posted a 7-1 record with 1.22 ERA. Without his contributions, Oakland's season would have been over early.

Melvin said the team is working through some of Trivino’s recent struggles, and pointed to a lack of movement in his pitches and a few mechanical issues. There is no plan to move away from his high-90’s fastball as a bullpen option.

Dustin Fowler was supposed to be the center fielder of the future in Oakland, but that plan is on hold. Laureano’s arrival looked like nothing more than a short-term cup of coffee in the bigs, but he instantly caught the team's attention.

His catch and throw from deep center field against the Angels on Aug. 11 might go down as the defensive play of the year. With the bat, he’s managed to hold his own, hitting .295 with five home runs and 18 RBI in 146 plate appearances. 

“It’s so much fun in this clubhouse and everybody gets along so well,” Laureano said. “It’s not something that you set up, it just has to happen organically, like everyone’s together. That’s what we’ve got here. We’ve got something special for sure. ”

After playing 854 games at the minor league level, Martini finished Saturday’s game batting .295 with a .390 on base percentage. He’s made some highlight reel plays in left and his approach at the plate has helped set the table for the A’s big bats in the middle of the lineup. 

While he has plenty of confidence in his ability as a player, the gravity of his situation -- as well as Oakland's -- is not lost on Martini.

“It’s definitely crazy that I’m leading off on a team like this and in the hunt,” Martini said. “I’m super grateful for it.”

It’s a next-man-up mentality. In a game known for huge personalities, the A’s are putting their egos on the shelf and forging forward as a collective unit.

“That’s probably the underlined theme of this team that kind of makes us who we are is that everybody plays for the guy next to him, not necessarily themselves,” Melvin said.

Players like Mark Canha and Chad Pinder have been valuable members of the A’s squad as well, but there are times when they have had to take a back seat to the young guys. They’ve both found ways to make an impact, whether as a starter or coming off the bench. 

“Everyone buys in to the same thing, everyone just wants to win and wants to succeed at this level, everyone is willing to do what it takes to make that happen,” Martini said.

It’s not a fluke. As the sample size gets grows, the young A’s continue to prove that they are a team worthy of their record. They’ve held their own against the best baseball has to offer, and they are ready to do damage in the postseason.  

The all-for-one, one-for-all mentality has created a perfect storm in Oakland. A lot of credit goes to the veterans for creating the right culture in the clubhouse, but the production from the unexpected has helped make this a memorable season in Oakland. 

The front office will have a few tough decisions to make heading into the playoffs, but it’s clear that Trivino, Laureano and Martini have earned their spots on the postseason roster. 

A's notes: Oakland finds wild new way to walk off Twins

A's notes: Oakland finds wild new way to walk off Twins

OAKLAND — The A’s are so close they can taste it. After a Tampa Bay loss and a second straight win over the Minnesota Twins, Oakland is within a single game of clinching an American League playoff spot. 

Like most nights for Oakland, the 3-2 win came in dramatic fashion: Stephen Piscotty scored off of a wild pitch with the bases loaded in the ninth inning. 

--- Quality Start, Quality Starter: In a season where the A’s have struggled to keep arms glued onto their pitchers, Mike Fiers has been a revelation. Since coming over from the Detroit Tigers on Aug. 6, the 33-year-old starter is 5-1 with a 2.91 ERA. He didn’t get the win Saturday, but he was in line for it when he came out after six innings. It’s the fifth quality start for Fiers in an A’s uniform, and he’s allowed three runs or fewer in all but one game in green and gold. 

--- Shutting it Down: Blake Treinen improved to 9-2 on the season with a league-best 0.81 ERA (minimum 12 innings pitched). He’s added another 37 saves and stuck out a blistering 96 batters in 77.1 innings pitched. On the downside, Treinen gave up a two-out single in the ninth to Willians Astudillo, ending his hitless streak after 13.1 innings. 

--- Just Walk Off: Oakland has made habit out of the dramatic this season. This was the A's 10th walk-off win of the year, but first on a wild pitch since April 26, 1997. On that day, Damon Mashore scored the winning run to beat the Kansas City Royals 7-6 in the 11th.  With the win, the A’s moved to 33 games over .500 for the first time since Sept. 24, 2003.

--- Just Walk Away:  The Twins can’t catch a break. With another defeat in the final at-bat, the Twins have now fallen victim to a walk-off loss 15 times this season. It ties a club record set in 1964 for the most walk-off losses in a single season. 

--- Held at Home: Oakland came into the night having scored seven or more runs in eight straight home games. Over the stretch, the A’s scored 76 runs, averaging an impressive 9.5 runs per game at the Coliseum. They had a few chances to bust the game open on Saturday, but the Twins staff held them in check for most of the evening. The eight-game stretch was the longest in Athletics history. 

--- Best in Baseball: Since June 16, the A’s have the best record in baseball at 60-25. The Red Sox are second at 57-27.