Athletics

Notes: Key A's relievers gear up for exhibition debuts

Notes: Key A's relievers gear up for exhibition debuts

MESA, Ariz. — The A’s are targeting Thursday to start easing their veteran relievers into Cactus League action.

Manager Bob Melvin said Ryan Madson and John Axford would be among those making their spring debuts Thursday against the Texas Rangers. Similar to last season, the A’s have held back with some of their relievers in an effort to keep their arms fresh.

Lefty Sean Doolittle, who has dealt with shoulder injuries the past two years, has yet to appear in a game. The same goes with Ryan Dull and Liam Hendriks. And the A’s still await Santiago Casilla’s visa issues to clear so he can report to camp from the Dominican Republic.

Melvin estimated that he likes to get his veteran relievers into nine or 10 games during the Cactus League but that it’s not a hard and fast rule.

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Also pitching Thursday in relief will be Frankie Montas, a pitcher who has impressed team officials in his early bullpen sessions. One of three pitchers acquired from the Dodgers in the Rich Hill/Josh Reddick trade, Montas threw just 16 innings in the minors last year because of two rib injuries, then tacked on some impressive work in the Arizona Fall League.

The A’s want to give Montas a look as a starter this season, but Melvin said Montas won’t be stretched out to start during camp because of his small workload last season. The hard-throwing Montas ranks fifth on Baseball America’s list of top A’s prospects.

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Heavy rain hit the Phoenix Valley early Tuesday morning but by 11 a.m. local time, the sun had poked through the clouds and the A’s were taking infield practice at Hohokam Stadium. The wet weather relegated them to taking batting practice in the indoor cages in advance of a 1:05 p.m. (MST) game against the visiting Cleveland Indians. For those curious, yes, Rajai Davis is leading off and playing center for the A’s against the team for which he hit a dramatic Game 7 home run in the World Series last fall.

Also of note, lefty closer Andrew Miller — MVP of the AL Championship Series — is scheduled to pitch for the Indians.

A's push for Mariners great Edgar Martinez in Baseball Hall of Fame

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AP

A's push for Mariners great Edgar Martinez in Baseball Hall of Fame

Edgar Martinez is on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot for one final time this year, and the A's are pushing for their former AL West rival to rightfully be inducted. 

Martinez spent his entire 18-year career playing for the Seattle Mariners. When it comes to Cooperstown, however, Oakland is putting the past away. 

The A's saw plenty of Martinez over his career, and he saw plenty of success against them. In those 177 games, he also had a .953 OPS with 28 home runs and just 101 strikeouts to 127 walks.

What's wild is the A's weren't even close to the team Martinez had the most success against. Look away, Indians fans: Edgar hit .347 with 30 home runs and 104 RBI over 135 games against Cleveland.

Oh, and for good fun, he also hit .343 with a 1.165 OPS against the Giants in 14 games. 

This is the 10th time Martinez has been on a Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. In 2018, the percentage of votes he received sky-rocketed from 58.6 to 70.4. To be elected, one must have at least 75 percent of votes. 

If public ballots are any indications, Martinez could be getting the call he's waited his whole life for later this month. As of this publishing date, Martinez has received 91 percent of votes in the 188 known ballots (45.6 percent of total voters) that have been sent to Ryan Thibodaux. 

Voters need to get on the same page as the A's. The wait has been long enough. It's time to give Martinez, a seven-time All-Star and .312 career hitter, his call to the Hall.

Revisiting A's signing of Grant Balfour in free agency eight years ago

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USATSI

Revisiting A's signing of Grant Balfour in free agency eight years ago

January 18, 2011 officially marked the beginning of "Balfour Rage."

The A's signed Australian relief pitcher Grant Balfour to a two-year, $8 million contract with a $4.5 million option for a third year. Balfour, who was 33 years old at the time, had spent the previous four seasons with Tampa Bay, seeing mixed results.

The right-hander was coming off a strong season in 2010, however, going 2-1 with a 2.28 ERA in 57 appearances. He had never been a closer in his big league career, but averaged better than a strikeout per inning as a setup man.

Performance

Balfour had a strong 2011 season in Oakland in a setup role. He went 5-2 with two saves and a 2.47 ERA, striking out 59 in 62 innings. Balfour eventually took over the closer role in 2012 and recorded 24 saves in 26 opportunities with a 2.53 ERA.

The A's exercised Balfour's option in 2013 and he posted a career-high 38 saves in 41 opportunities with a 2.59 ERA, earning his first and only All-Star appearance. He also set the A's franchise record with 41 consecutive saves converted.

Balfour quickly became a fan favorite, known for his fiery passion and screaming of profanities on the mound. "Balfour Rage," as it became known, sometimes rubbed batters the wrong way, but Balfour insisted it was just his way of pumping himself up. Needless to say, A's fans loved it.

[RELATED: How A's could learn from Coco Crisp signing nine years ago]

Lesson

The Balfour signing was a great success for Oakland. In three seasons, he went 9-7 with 64 saves and a 2.53 ERA. For just over $12 million, that was a bargain.

Balfour proved to be a late developer in his career. He didn't really put it all together until he was in his 30s. While the A's signed Balfour to be a setup man, they were open to an increased role for him and eventually he earned the closer job.

Of course, Balfour's personality was a big part of his success in Oakland. "Balfour Rage" resonated with fans and teammates alike. That became his identity and both he and his team embraced it.

2019 free agent comparison

It's not exactly "Balfour Rage," but Sergio Romo is quite flamboyant on the mound. Like Balfour, Romo wears his emotions on his sleeve and gets fired up when he records an important out, sometimes bothering hitters.

Romo, 35, went 3-4 with 25 saves and a 4.14 ERA last season with the Rays. For his career, the right-handed reliever owns a 2.86 ERA and 1.01 WHIP, averaging well over a strikeout per inning.