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.

A's Chris Bassitt, Austin Allen's quick bond creating success on mound

A's Chris Bassitt, Austin Allen's quick bond creating success on mound

Chris Bassitt’s stellar outing in the A's 3-2 win over the Seattle Mariners on Sunday almost wasn’t. But we’ll let the first inning be just a memory.

“I told myself after the first inning, I’m like ‘All right, you may be a little wild today, but don’t walk guys, make them earn everything,’ and it obviously smoothed itself out,” Bassitt told reporters in the postgame interview. 

Bassitt hit J.P. Crawford in the first with a curveball. After Dylan Moore hit into a fielder's choice and stole second, he came around to score on a single by Daniel Vogelbach.

Bassitt's performance more than smoothed itself out, and he had the help of rookie catcher Austin Allen in the process. In 5 2/3 innings, Bassitt allowed just one earned run, three hits and struck out seven. 

“Austin kind of guided me through the first inning and [got] going from there,” Bassitt said. “After the second inning, I just kind of felt myself out and I was kind of locked in from there on out." 

Allen came to the A's an offseason trade with the San Diego Padres for Jurickson Profar. And while he’s the new guy, Allen was able to form a bond with Bassitt quicker than usual. 

“Me and Austin spent a lot of time together over the last -- I would say two, three weeks just getting to know one another, talking about what I like, what I don’t like,” Bassitt said. “Obviously, a new catcher coming in, he’s got to learn basically me -- he’s got to learn who I am mentally, who I am physically, what I can and can’t do.

"I think we’re still learning each other, but at the same time, I think a lot more ahead of what we should be just because, again -- me and [Sean Murphy] are on the same page, and I think Austin’s done a great job of learning who I am.”

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]
 

The fifth inning came fast, but before Bassitt was pulled, he wanted to make it count against Mariners rookie outfielder Kyle Lewis, who is hitting .425 with three home runs this season. 

Bassitt glanced over to the bullpen to see A’s reliever T.J. McFarland warming up, knowing Vogelbach was about to come to the plate. He had an internal message for Lewis. 

“All right, if you’re going to hit me, you’re going to hit my best pitch, so uh … here we go,” Bassitt explained. “So yeah, I knew that was my last batter.”

[RELATED: Luzardo to make first big-league start next week]

Bassitt struck Lewis out.

And Bassitt continues to improve.

A’s manager Bob Melvin said Bassitt was fantastic and “seems to get better every time out.”

A's takeaways: What you might have missed in 3-2 win over Mariners

A's takeaways: What you might have missed in 3-2 win over Mariners

BOX SCORE

Coming off an extra-innings win over the Mariners the night before, the A's backed that up with another 3-2 victory in Seattle on Sunday.

The A's bats were quiet until Ramón Laureano crushed a three-run home run in the top of the fifth to give Oakland a 3-1 lead. Matt Chapman also had his first hit of the series with a line-drive single to left field in the eighth.

On the mound opposing the A's was a familiar face in Kendall Graveman, whose velocity looked stellar with a four-seam fastball he worked on during quarantine. 

Here’s what you might have missed during Sunday’s game:

Still depending on homers?

Just a couple days ago, Laureano told reporters that those on the outside might be worried about the team’s offensive production, but that is definitely not the case for him. His fifth-inning homer was his second of the young season. 

This exit velocity on that homer actually clocked in at only 98.5 mph which is low for homers, but that’s Laureano for you.

On Saturday night, Chad Pinder hit a home run to tie the game which ultimately would help the A's pull out the win, but are these homers being depended on too much?

They’re also not all base-clearing home runs … minus, of course, Matt Olson’s walk-off slam on Opening Day, but that’s the consensus around the league it appears. This season, the A’s have left 12.62 runners on base per game, which believe it or not, isn’t even the top eight worst in the league, so it could be a blanketed situation.

Perhaps this homer dependability is a thing, but it doesn’t appear the team minds at the moment.

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

Bassitt puts on a show

It was smooth sailing for Chris Bassitt, who made it through to 5 2/3 innings and threw 83 pitches. He allowed just one earned run on three hits, and struck out seven batters.

His flyball percentage has dropped drastically this season and that showed Sunday. Bassitt's curveball has lacked velocity, but is massive to add to his repertoire.

Heading into the season, Bassitt could have been pitched out of the rotation or the bullpen. With the delay of Jesus Luzardo’s arrival after he tested positive for coronavirus, and the setback from A.J. Puk, Bassitt easily worked his way into the starting rotation.

Last season, however, he made a great case for himself coming out of the bullpen when Blake Treinen struggled with a back injury.

"Hey, we know you."

Graveman, the former Opening Day starter for the A's, was impressive through the first four innings. Aside from his fastball, he also had a pretty impressive slider that he threw to Marcus Semien on a 3-0 count.

Gravemen spent four seasons with the A’s from 2015-18. He missed most of the 2019 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

The 29-year-old went 4 2/3 innings and allowed three hits and two earned runs. Graveman struck out three and walked two A's batters. Graveman was originally supposed to be a big part of the A’s rotation in 2018, but that ultimately wasn’t the case.

[RELATED: Grossman details adjustment that changed his season]

It's been two years since Graveman pitched in the big leagues, and after a pitstop with the Chicago Cubs, he's found a new home in Seattle. So, despite him no longer wearing green and gold, it was good to see Graveman healthy and back on the mound again.