Athletics

Madson focused on his pitching, not his role in A's bullpen

Madson focused on his pitching, not his role in A's bullpen

MESA, Ariz. — Ryan Madson goes about his business getting ready for the season, without much clarity on what his bullpen role will be and hardly wringing his hands over the mystery.

A’s manager Bob Melvin has four veteran relievers with closer experience to choose from to be his ninth-inning man. He said Saturday morning he likely won’t announce that decision until the Bay Bridge Series that leads into Opening Day.

Madson, who rang up 30 saves as Oakland’s primary closer last season, prepares the same during the spring regardless of what inning he might pitch. He sees the numerous closer options as being a benefit for whoever ultimately gets picked for the ninth.

“If I’m doing it and I don’t get it done, there’s guys that will,” Madson said. “It’s not just a one-man show, so that takes the pressure off actually. People would think maybe it adds pressure — you gotta do good so you can have it. To me, it does the exact opposite. That helps me, knowing the more guys you’ve got that can do the job, the easier that job becomes.”

It wouldn’t be a shock if Melvin goes with the 36-year-old Madson as closer to begin the season. He’s the incumbent, and, though he had a 7.50 spring ERA before throwing a scoreless inning Saturday, no one among the trio of John Axford, Santiago Casilla and Sean Doolittle has made an emphatic statement for the job with their Cactus League performance. Axford’s 5.06 ERA is the lowest of those four.

From his comments so far this spring, Melvin seems inclined to use Ryan Dull as an escape artist to enter with men on base, a situation that he excelled in last season.

Regardless of how Melvin lines up his bullpen for the regular season, he’s said that he’s likely to utilize multiple guys in save situations depending on who’s available and who needs rest on a given day.

At this time last year, Madson was assumed to be the eighth-inning setup man with Doolittle handling closer duties. Melvin wound up flip-flopping them for the start of the regular season, and Madson got off to a strong start and remained the closer for most of the year. In his first extended ninth-inning duty since 2011, he notched his second 30-save season but also had seven blown saves, tied for second most in the American League.

“The emotions are different” in the ninth inning, Madson said. “They’re heightened, and so I had to adjust that way. … As long as I can navigate those emotions and put them in the right place, I usually do well when I can do that.”

Entering the second year of a three-year, $22 million contract, Madson said he likes the way he’s rounding into form on the mound despite less-than-glittering numbers.

“When I have good angle on the ball, good deception and good movement, then I get outs and I get ground balls,” he said. “I get strikeouts with the changeup. So if I focus on that, everything else falls in where it needs to.”

 

Report: A's believed Astros were stealing signs during late August game

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Report: A's believed Astros were stealing signs during late August game

The Houston Astros reportedly are in hot water over accusations of stolen signs, two months after the A's first noticed a separate suspicious incident. 

Sources told Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan that during a Houston-Oakland game in late August:

A’s players noticed Astros players clapping in the dugout before pitches and believed they were relaying stolen signs to pitchers in the batter’s box, sources said. The A’s called the league, which said it would investigate the matter. It’s unclear what the result of the investigation was or whether it remains ongoing.

On Saturday, Fenway Park security kicked out a man who claimed to be working for the defending World Series champions during the third inning of Game 1 of the ALCS, Boston Metro reported Tuesday. That man was Kyle McLaughlin, according to Yahoo Sports, and the site obtained a picture showing him pointing his cell phone into the Cleveland Indians' dugout during the ALDS. 

The Los Angeles Dodgers, who lost to Houston in Game 7 of the World Series a year ago, believed the Astros stole signs during the Fall Classic, according to Passan. Two MLB players said they've seen Houston players hitting a trash can in the dugout during games, and believe it's a method of passing on pitchers' signals, the report said. 

Passan did not identify the A's-Astros game in question, but the A's played the Astros in a three-game set on Aug. 27-29. Houston won two out of three, including an 11-4 rout in the series opener. 

MLB told Metro that "We are aware of the matter, and it will be handled internally."

Evaluating A's arbitration in 2018 MLB offseason: Chris Bassitt

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Evaluating A's arbitration in 2018 MLB offseason: Chris Bassitt

(Over the next week, we will be examining each of the A's arbitration-eligible players to determine whether they will return in 2019.)

Chris Bassitt provided a nice boost for the A's in 2018, especially with all the pitching injuries they suffered. The 29-year-old right-hander appeared in 11 games, including seven starts, going 2-3 with a 3.02 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. He also pitched in 18 games for Triple-A Nashville, going 5-5 with a 4.30 ERA.

Bassitt notched 41 strikeouts in 47 2/3 innings with the A's last season, limiting opponents to a .221 batting average. In parts of four Major League seasons, including three in Oakland, he is 4-14 with a 3.86 ERA and 1.37 WHIP.

Bassitt earned $545k in 2018 and is projected to get a raise to $1.6 million in arbitration, according to MLB Trade Rumors.

Why he might be a bargain

Bassitt could certainly provide depth to the A's starting rotation, as he did last season. With Sean Manaea, Jharel Cotton, and A.J. Puk all expected to miss at least the start of the 2019 season, Oakland's rotation will be thin early on. Bassitt proved more than capable of serving as a spot starter and keeping his team in a game. He can also pitch out of the bullpen, which he has done 10 times in his career, including four in 2018.

Why he might be too pricey

$1.6 million is a high price tag for a fringe Major League pitcher. Bassitt has spent more time in the minors than the big leagues the past few seasons, and at the age of 29, he is no longer a young prospect. If the A's are even close to healthy, Bassitt will not have a spot in the starting rotation and likely won't factor into the bullpen either. He is a solid backup option, but that's probably all.

Verdict

Unless the two sides can avoid arbitration, Bassitt is unlikely to return to Oakland next season. The A's would probably be willing to give him a small raise from his $545k salary in 2018, but $1.6 million is too much to pay for a spot starter. If the number ends up being in that range, expect the A's to let Bassitt walk and instead turn to younger arms to fill his role.