How Bob Melvin plans to utilize A's inconsistent bullpen going forward

How Bob Melvin plans to utilize A's inconsistent bullpen going forward

OAKLAND -- The A's bullpen has been one of the team's few disappointments this season, leading all of MLB with 29 blown saves. However, manager Bob Melvin believes that group is now as strong as it's been all year.

It may not be the names we expected to see late in games -- last year's stars Blake Treinen and Lou Trivino have both struggled in 2019 -- but reinforcements have come from a variety of locations.

Hard-throwing youngsters Jesús Luzardo, A.J. Puk, and J.B. Wendelken have all been phenomenal this month, combining for a 1.40 ERA. They will continue to play a significant role in high-leverage situations.

"It is nice to have that depth," said A's manager Bob Melvin. "You know you have to make adjustments along the way over the course of 162 games. Rarely does it go like it did last year where every game (that we led) after the seventh inning we won, up until the last couple of weeks of the season. It was a little bit more of a challenge this year, but we seem to be as strong as ever at this point."

Oakland's bullpen has also been bolstered by the addition of starting pitcher Chris Bassitt. The right-hander volunteered to help out in the pen with Treinen out with a back injury.

In his first relief appearance Friday night, Bassitt pitched a dominant ninth inning, striking out two of the three batters he faced. His fastball consistently hit 97 mph as he didn't have to worry about saving his energy for multiple innings.

"It's definitely different, knowing that I don't have to save much," Bassitt told NBC Sports California. "It's fun. Every pitch is basically your best pitch."

Added Melvin: "If someone's not available, (Bassitt) can slip into that role. If we need him for length, he can slip into that. You get into an extra-inning game, he can give you multiple innings. So it's his versatility that we really value in the role that he has right now."

Oakland has also used Luzardo and Puk for multiple frames, with Luzardo pitching three innings in each of his first two appearances. Melvin will likely continue to use that "piggyback" strategy of following up one starter with another for up to nine outs.

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"It's something we have in our back pocket," he said. "Some of what we've been doing recently, whether it's Luzardo or Puk and so forth, is been able to give our bullpen a rest. I think we're probably as rested as we've been all season."

Of course, All-Star closer Liam Hendriks and veteran right-hander Yusmeiro Petit will continue to play a significant role, as could Joakim Soria, who has looked sharp since returning from a nine-game absence. But as the A's head toward the postseason, they will continue to rely heavily on their youngsters.

Where A's MVP finalist Marcus Semien wants to improve next season

Where A's MVP finalist Marcus Semien wants to improve next season

OAKLAND -- Marcus Semien enjoyed a breakout season in 2019, in just about every area. The Oakland shortstop became the first A's player to register a top-three finish in the AL MVP race since Miguel Tejada in 2002.

"It means a lot," Semien told NBC Sports California. "It was a very competitive field this year. I think that the game is changing. There are so many players who can do everything on the field -- fielding, base running, scoring runs, producing runs. I'm trying to work on every part of my game to get better, and in the second half, I really made some improvements."  

Semien, 29, set career-highs in runs, hits, home runs, doubles, RBI, walks, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and just about any other stat you can think of. The Bay Area native might have been even better defensively, where he was a Gold Glove finalist for the second straight year.

But despite all of his accomplishments, Semien believes he still has room to improve in 2020.

"I think baserunning is a big one, just getting in scoring position more for our big hitters," Semien said. "We've got great hitters in the middle of the lineup, so walking and getting hits, you want to just make sure you run the bases right. Defensively, turn more double plays, help our pitchers. We're going to have some young pitchers, so we want to make them feel as comfortable as possible."

Last offseason, Semien's most significant development involved plate discipline. He reduced his strikeout total from 131 to 102 and drew a career-high 87 walks, 26 more than the year before.

Semien also matched an A's single-season record by scoring 123 runs, fourth-most in the majors.

"Scoring runs was a big one for me," Semien said. "Solidifying myself in the leadoff spot. I've been moving around the lineup for a couple of years now and just to solidify the leadoff spot and score runs and get in a routine was great."

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While he appreciates the individual recognition, Semien's main focus is team success. After experiencing back-to-back Wild Card Game losses, he is optimistic that the A's can make a deeper run next season.

"I think we're going to be good," he said. "We want to start off better than we did last year. I think that our rotation will be more solidified. These last two years, we've added at the (trade) deadline to get our rotation where we want it to be, where this coming season, we'll hopefully start the rotation that we like. Position players are ready. I think that we'll have everybody healthy and it'll be fun."

Why A's shortstop Marcus Semien could be MVP candidate again in 2020


Why A's shortstop Marcus Semien could be MVP candidate again in 2020

Marcus Semien fell short of winning the AL MVP Award, but his third-place finish might be just the beginning.

At 29 years old, the A's shortstop still is very much in his prime and has significantly improved in each of his five seasons with Oakland.

When Semien first joined the A's at the age of 24, he was a decent hitter but looked completely lost in the field. In 2015, he committed a league-high 35 errors, prompting many to believe that he could never develop into a major-league shortstop.

But with the help of Ron Washington, Semien went to work. He spent hours upon hours working on his footwork, glovework, and consistency. Fast forward to 2019 and Semien has transformed into a back-to-back Gold Glove Award finalist.

Semien's offensive development has been just as impressive. This past season, the Bay Area native slashed .285/.369/.522 with 33 home runs, 43 doubles, 92 RBI, and 123 runs scored. He notched career-highs in just about every offensive stat imaginable, ranking near the top of the majors in all of the important categories.

Most impressive, Semien's 8.1 WAR (wins above replacement) was fourth-best in baseball, behind only Mike Trout, Alex Bregman, and Cody Bellinger. Semien started all 162 games at shortstop, batting in the leadoff spot for 145 of those contests. And the scariest part for the rest of the league is that he continues to get better.

"He becomes a better hitter every year," A's manager Bob Melvin said earlier this year. "Nobody works harder than Marcus Semien. He knows what he needs to work on."

After the All-Star break, Semien arguably was the most productive hitter in baseball. In 70 games, he slashed .304/.396/.621 with 19 homers, 22 doubles, five triples, 44 RBI, and 62 runs.

If Semien continues at that rate next season, it would translate to 44 home runs, 51 doubles, 12 triples, 102 RBI, and 143 runs over the course of 162 games. That certainly is MVP-caliber.

Of course, the A's have a major decision to make -- Semien is set to become a free agent after the 2020 season and figures to see some big-money offers. Will Oakland sign its star shortstop to an expensive extension or instead turn the reigns over to young prospect Jorge Mateo?

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Semien is entering his final year of arbitration, where he is projected to get $13.5 million. After that, the A's could choose to make a qualifying offer to Semien for 2021, but there is no guarantee he would accept.

If 2020 does end up being Semien's last year in Oakland, it figures to be another special one. This year he was an MVP finalist. Perhaps next year he'll just be the MVP.