Athletics

Rewind: Identifying a 2017 closer is crucial task for A's

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Rewind: Identifying a 2017 closer is crucial task for A's

Looking ahead to next season, the A’s will have a nice collection of parts from which to build their bullpen.

However, identifying a full-time closer is one major item for the spring training to-do list.

That’s not a knee-jerk reaction to Friday’s 7-6 walk-off loss to the Rangers, in which Ryan Madson blew his seventh save of the season as Texas erased a 6-5 deficit in the ninth.

Madson has done an admirable job as Oakland’s closer, particularly considering this wasn’t a role he was originally slated for. The A’s signed him to a three-year $22 million contract in the offseason to be a shutdown setup man for Sean Doolittle. But Doolittle was still finding his form during spring training after prolonged shoulder issues sidelined him for most of 2015.

[STIGLICH: Instant Replay: Madson blows save, Rangers walk off on A's]

Madson was manager Bob Melvin’s choice for the ninth from Opening Night onward, even though he maintained early on that he was picking his closer based on matchups. The 36-year-old Madson has responded with 30 saves, just two shy of the career-high 32 he notched with the Phillies in 2011. At this stage of his career, the A’s probably couldn’t have expected more in turning to Madson as the regular closer.

But given his age, and the fact he’s been prone to the occasional ninth-inning mishap, it’s fair to say that the A’s best bullpen scenario for 2017 would probably have Madson returning to a setup role. Yet for that to happen, someone else needs to emerge as closer.

Doolittle is the logical candidate to return to his former role. He once again was hindered by shoulder problems this season. But lately he’s been showing the life and velocity on his fastball that’s so crucial for him. He’s also mixed in the occasional slider with success, and should that become a consistently reliable second offering next season, Doolittle could find himself back handling the ninth, though his health can’t exactly be taken for granted.

John Axford, who like Madson has prior closer experience, has battled inconsistency. Liam Hendriks has emerged as an effective reliever since returning from a triceps strain, and Ryan Dull enjoyed his record-setting run of stranding runners on base in the first half. But none of them seems an ideal candidate to close based on their total body of work.

It’s also hard to see the A’s going out this winter and spending big to acquire a closer, given how aggressive they were last offseason, spending $32 million on multi-year deals for both Madson and Axford, plus trading for Hendriks and Marc Rzepczynski (who has since been dealt away).

The A’s may have multiple decent options to close, but no slam-dunk favorite. Their situation could be a lot worse, but it leaves a big question to answer as the offseason approaches.

**

Though his night was overshadowed by the walk-off loss, A’s center fielder Brett Eibner enjoyed his biggest game as a major leaguer, hitting a three-run homer with a career-high four RBI. Eibner lined an RBI single in the fourth and followed with a three-run laser over the wall in left in the sixth.

Now’s the time to shine for the 27-year-old Eibner, who hadn’t reached the majors until the Royals called him up in May. He was traded to Oakland for Billy Burns in July but had been mostly quiet since joining the A’s until this road trip. He’s seen time in all three outfield spots, and the A’s are busy evaluating lots of players because they’re looking at an unsettled outfield situation entering next spring. Left fielder Khris Davis is the only player guaranteed to start, and even he figures to see lots of time as the designated hitter.

Khris Davis leaves (and receives) lasting impression with special fan

Khris Davis leaves (and receives) lasting impression with special fan

OAKLAND -- Baseball is just a game. It’s easy to lose sight of that when you are battling for playoff position and every game matters. 

For Oakland A’s slugger Khris Davis, he was reminded of this fact during pregame on Monday evening when a special guest dropped by the dugout to meet him. 

Anthony Slocumb, a sixth grader from Claremont Middle School in Oakland, is a big-time fan of Davis. He’s also in remission after battling a rare cancer called Langerhans cell histiocytosis.

Before the game, Slocumb met Davis as part of the Make-A-Wish Foundation and asked for an autograph. Davis returned the favor, having the 10-year-old sign the back of his jersey before the A’s took on the Texas Rangers.

With blue ink sprawled across the back of his uniform, Davis stepped to the plate and gave Slocumb an incredible memory to hold onto, blasting a towering shot into the left field bleachers.

“There was a lot of emotion with those kid’s situation,” Davis said following the game. “It’s the worst situation you can be in, probably. I just wanted to put a smile on his face and thought maybe it would mean something if I had him my jersey signed by him.” 

These events play out often in professional sports, but Davis was moved by his experience Monday. The A’s leader in home runs crushed a ball that careened off a luxury box window an estimated 438 feet from home plate.

As he rounded the bases, he did so with a his newly found friend in mind. 

“I thought about him around the bases,” Davis said. “There’s not a better feeling than hitting a home run. And if he got some excitement and joy from watching that ... I hope he saw it.”  

Davis only had a few minutes to spend with Slocumb before the game, but it left him energized. The home run was Davis' 37th of the season, tying for second place in the majors, one behind the Red Sox’ J.D. Martinez. 

When asked whether he considered swapping out for a new jersey before the game, Davis gave a definitive - “no.” 

“I wanted to rock that. I wanted him to know I was thinking about him,” Davis said. 

The A’s are having a season of big moments. Coming away with a 9-0 win over the Rangers is great for the win/loss record, but for one fan, this was a game he’ll never forget. 

A's notes: Ramon Laureano leads Oakland power surge with two homers

A's notes: Ramon Laureano leads Oakland power surge with two homers

OAKLAND — The A’s keep rolling. After taking two of three against the Houston Astros over the weekend, Oakland’s hitters jumped all over Rangers starter Bartolo Colon Monday evening at the Coliseum.

With Mike Fiers dealing on the mound, the A’s position players crushed Colon for seven earned runs on 10 hits over five innings, coming away with a 9-0 win to improve to 75-50 on the season. 

--- A First and a Blast - Ramon Laureano got in on the power surge early, hitting his first big-league homer in the second inning off the top of the right field scoreboard. It was a nice moment for the rookie, but it was completely overshadowed by a shot from Kris Davis in the third. Davis crushed his 37th homer of the season an estimated 437 feet to left center field. The shot came off the bat of the A’s DH at an estimated 111 mph exit speed at a 28-degree angle and hit off the windows of a suite. The ball might have hit a BART train if not for Mount Davis impeding its path.  

--- Chasing J.D. - With home run No. 37, Davis is now tied for second place in the majors with Cleveland’s José Ramírez. The two sluggers trail Boston’s J.D. Martinez, who has 38 homers on the season. Davis is one RBI away from 100, which would give him three straight seasons in Oakland with 37-plus home runs and a 100 or more RBI.

--- Not to be Outdone - Laureano crushed a three-run blast in the six inning off of Colon for the first multi-homer game of his career. The 23-year-old center fielder finished the night 2-for-4 with the pair of jacks and five RBI. 

--- Starters on Fier - Mike Fiers picked up his second win in three starts as a member of the A's. He gave up a double to lead off the second inning, but then shut down the final 18 hitters he faced to pick up the victory. Oakland starters are now 10-2 over their last 18 games and have yielded two runs or fewer 15 times over that stretch. 

--- Stay Hot - With the win, Oakland improved to 41-14 over the last 55 games. They came into the evening tied with Boston for the best record in the majors over that stretch, but with the Red Sox' loss to the Indians, the A’s now lead by a game. 

--- Quiet Night - The official attendance on the evening was just 9,341. With the A’s battling for a playoff spot, the numbers have been all over the board.