A's defend bullpenning decision despite season-ending loss to Yankees

A's defend bullpenning decision despite season-ending loss to Yankees

NEW YORK — There inevitably will be endless second-guessing of the A's decision to bullpen their way through the most important game of the season. That's just the nature of the business.

But bullpenning wasn't the reason for Oakland's 7-2 defeat Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium.

While Liam Hendriks got off to a rocky start as the opener in the American League Wild Card Game, relievers Lou Trivino and Shawn Kelley combined for four scoreless innings to keep the Yankees' lead at just 2-0 through five innings. Allowing just two runs in five innings to that offense, in that ballpark, was the best-case scenario for the A's.

Unfortunately, Oakland's bats went quiet at the wrong time, producing just two hits through the first seven scoreless innings.

“The first two batters obviously weren't the way I drew it up,” Hendriks said of his outing. “After that, I kind of settled down a little bit and got into a rhythm, and I was able to retire the next three. Unfortunately, the first two came back to bite us.”

Added A's manager Bob Melvin: “I thought after we got through the first and settled in a little bit, our at-bats would get better and we'd get back in it. We just didn't do it.”

[RATTO: Simple answer for A's is ...]

Keep in mind, the A's didn't just start bullpenning for the fun of it. They suffered seemingly endless injuries to their starting rotation during the season, and by October, had no starters left that they could trust in this game.

“It's not the ideal situation,” catcher Jonathan Lucroy acknowledged. “We were kind of forced to do it because of our lack of starting pitching, and our bullpen is our strength right now. We had to utilize our strength. ... Especially in a one-game playoff, you've got to roll your best guys out there.”

“It's tough to sit there and watch,” starting pitcher Mike Fiers admitted. “Everyone wants to play and contribute. But I'm not mad that I didn't get in. ... We went with our best guys, and they beat us.”

The recipe for success in this game always was going to be playing from ahead. With the Yankees' deep and talented bullpen, a comeback after the fifth inning would be nearly impossible.

Ultimately, the A's couldn't produce any run support for their pitchers until it was too late.

A's award-winning run this offseason 'really special' to organization


A's award-winning run this offseason 'really special' to organization

The hardware just keeps rolling in for the Oakland A's.

Just look at the list of awards the A's have claimed over the past two weeks:
• AL Manager of the Year -- Bob Melvin
• Sporting News AL Manager of the Year -- Melvin
• MLB Executive of the Year -- Billy Beane
• Two Gold Gloves -- Matt Chapman and Matt Olson (plus two more finalists in Jed Lowrie and Marcus Semien)
• AL Platinum Glove -- Chapman
• Wilson Defensive Player of the Year -- Chapman

"It's really special," A's general manager David Forst said. "Seeing the individual awards has been great. It means a lot to everybody in the organization."

That list doesn't even include Edwin Jackson, who was named a finalist for the AL Comeback Player of the Year Award. The winner will be announced Monday.

The A's also were represented in the AL Cy Young Award and MVP voting -- Blake Treinen tied for sixth in the Cy Young race, and four A's finished in the top 20 of the MVP voting: Chapman (seventh), Khris Davis (eighth), Treinen (tied for 15th), and Jed Lowrie (tied for 20th).

"When it was announced on the network that Bob (Melvin) had won (AL Manager of the Year), you could hear the applause from all corners of our new office in Jack London Square," Forst said. "That was the case for both Gold Glove Awards, and really everything this offseason that has kind of energized the organization. It has been really special the last month."

Quite the momentum to take into an important offseason, as the A's search for starting pitching and other components that can help return them to the playoffs.

MLB rumors: A's, Yankees talked Sonny Gray deal, but no trade imminent


MLB rumors: A's, Yankees talked Sonny Gray deal, but no trade imminent

It could be Sonny again in Oakland, but there's reportedly still a long way to go. 

The A's reached out to the Yankees about acquiring right-handed pitcher Sonny Gray, "but there is no present momentum in talks," MLB Network's Jon Morosi reported Friday. 

Last week, Fancred's Jon Heyman reported the A's were interested in re-acquiring Gray, who pitched in Oakland from 2013 to 2017 before being traded to New York. As Morosi noted, they've had no problem bringing back former pitchers, and there's good reason that a return to Oakland could bring the best out of Gray.

For one thing, he was a much better pitcher away from Yankee Stadium since the Bronx Bombers acquired him at the trade deadline in 2017. Gray went 6-7 with a 6.55 ERA and 1.70 WHIP in 88.0 innings in the Bronx. By contrast, he was 9-9 with a 2.84 ERA and 1.18 WHIP on the road. In 386.0 innings at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum with the A's, Gray was 25-20 with a 3.50 ERA and 1.17 WHIP.

Injuries to promising young starters such as Sean Manaea and A.J. Puk forced the A's to use a patchwork starting rotation down the stretch last season, and the team relied on a bullpenning strategy en route to its first playoff appearance in four years. As a result, A's executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane identified starting pitching as the team's top priority this offseason.

[ROSS: How Patrick Corbin's contract could affect A's starting pitching market]

[MORE: Did Nathan Eovaldi's playoff heroics put him out of A's price range?]

Re-acquiring Gray would maintain the approach that kept the rotation afloat last season but offer the A's much more upside than bringing back Cahill and Anderson. With the Yankees actively looking to trade Gray, it makes a lot of sense for both teams.

Based on Morosi's report, it sounds like they'll have to start picking up the phone, though.