For the second straight year, the A's have an All-Star closer. They just happen to be two different people.
Last year, Blake Treinen put together a historic season, going 9-2 with 38 saves and a minuscule 0.78 ERA. The tall right-hander notched 100 strikeouts against just 21 walks in 80 1/3 innings, becoming the first pitcher ever to record at least 30 saves and 100 strikeouts with a sub-one ERA.
This year, it's been Liam Hendriks' turn to dominate. The 30-year-old right-hander has posted a 1.24 ERA and 1.03 WHIP during the first half of the season, striking out 63 batters in 50 2/3 innings. Hendriks became just the third-ever Australian-born player to make the MLB All-Star Game.
"I came back and started throwing a little bit more curveballs and less two-seams and more four-seams," Hendriks told reporters. "At the end of the day, the biggest thing for me is throwing breaking balls for strikes. As soon as I get that, everything else opens up."
Meanwhile, Treinen has taken a massive step backward after his terrific 2018 campaign. He already has allowed 17 earned runs, more than twice as many as all of last season, compiling an ERA of 4.17 with a 1.56 WHIP. Treinen's biggest issue has been his control. He has doled out 23 walks in just 36 2/3 innings, a rate of 5.6 per nine frames. Those struggles have caused him to lose his closer role to Hendriks, at least for the time being.
"We're still with Hendriks right now," A's manager Bob Melvin recently told reporters. "I had Blake in a tough spot (last Wednesday against the Twins), so I want to make sure I get him in a little bit of a lesser spot before we move forward with that. And at this point, Liam deserves to be there right now."
Since taking over as Oakland's primary closer, Hendriks has spun 9 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out 15 without issuing a single walk and converting all five save opportunities.
"My mindset didn't really change," Hendriks said of his new role. "I was just going out there and saying, 'Whatever inning you want me to, I'll throw.' I think that's been the best thing for me. It's kind of taking away that edge and taking away that thing of like, 'Why am I throwing in the third inning? I should be throwing in the sixth.' It's just taking away that. It's just helped me to relax in games."
Melvin has seen Hendriks improve in a multitude of areas this season.
"He's done a lot of things that have made him better. He's quicker to the plate now, I think he's got better rhythm now, he's got better off-speed stuff, he's throwing a lot harder now due to a different workout routine and long-tossing and so forth. From where he was (last season) to where he is right now, it's been terrific to see."
So for now, there doesn't appear to be any closer controversy in Oakland. Hendriks is the guy. But what happens if he has a couple of rough outings after the All-Star break? Does Melvin stick with him or turn back to Treinen? Those will be significant questions to monitor throughout the second half of the season.