Joakim Soria

Joakim Soria rewarding A's offseason faith during MLB playoffs push

Joakim Soria rewarding A's offseason faith during MLB playoffs push

OAKLAND -- To say that this season hasn't gone as Joakim Soria had hoped would be an understatement.

The A's had high expectations when they signed the veteran reliever to a two-year, $15 million contract in the offseason. After all, Soria recorded a 3.12 ERA in 66 games last season between the Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers in 2018, striking out 75 batters in 60 2/3 innings.

This year has been a completely different story. Soria, 35, is just 1-4 with a 4.50 ERA, the worst of his 12-year career. Recently, however, Soria has shown glimpses of his All-Star days.

After missing nine games earlier this month with inflammation in his elbow, Soria has looked like a completely different pitcher. In two appearances since returning, the right-hander has tossed two perfect innings with four strikeouts.

"I felt good," Soria told NBC Sports California on Friday after the A's 8-0 win over the Texas Rangers at the Coliseum. "Everything was working right and hopefully it continues that way."

Soria's velocity was up as well Friday, even hitting 95 mph with his four-seam fastball. He was dominant on back-to-back nights.

"I think it was getting healthy," said A's manager Bob Melvin. "His workload was extreme. You know, this is not a 21-year-old. He's (had two) Tommy John (surgeries). We used him a lot. I think the break did help him. Obviously, we don't want to see anyone get a little nicked up like he was, but I do think the break helped him and it looks like all of his pitches are fired up again."

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If Soria could find his old form, it would provide an incredible boost for the A's bullpen down the stretch and into the postseason. It certainly wouldn't be the first time a pitcher has struggled during the regular season only to catch fire during the playoffs -- think Barry Zito with the Giants in 2012.

"It's always good to get back healthy and throw good outings," Soria said. "It's really good for your mental point of view."

Soria now has has struck out six in 4 2/3 scoreless innings in September, allowing just one hit and one walk. Sure, that's a small sample size, but it's still a promising development for the A's ahead of their playoff push.

A's bullpen turns back the clock with dominant effort in win vs. Astros

A's bullpen turns back the clock with dominant effort in win vs. Astros

OAKLAND -- It's no secret that the A's bullpen has dealt with its share of struggles this season. Heck, we literally just published an article about it earlier Friday.

But on Friday night, Oakland's pen turned back the clock to 2018. Blake Treinen, Jake Diekman, Joakim Soria, and Lou Trivino combined to pitch seven scoreless innings against a relentless Astros lineup, leading the A's to a thrilling 3-2 win in 13 innings.

"It was a big night for a lot of guys, and maybe some guys who were struggling a little bit really emerged," said A's manager Bob Melvin. "We saw the type of stuff that we saw last year. So hats off."

The final numbers? Seven innings, no runs, three hits, two walks (one intentional), and nine strikeouts. It was a performance made even more impressive by the fact that Melvin was down his top two bullpen arms -- Liam Hendriks had pitched the previous two days and Yusmeiro Petit the last three.

Instead, Oakland had to turn to four relievers with ERAs above four. And all four came through in a big way.

"I would love to not give up a single run -- all of us -- and absolutely dominate a game like we did today," Trivino said. "It's awesome. Baseball's not like that, unfortunately, so it's nice to have a good night like this. Lord willing, it continues."

Trivino was especially impressive, extending himself for three innings and 41 pitches. He allowed just a single hit and an intentional walk, pitching around a rare Matt Chapman error in the 13th inning to earn his fourth win of the year.

"That's huge for him," Melvin said. "You have to go out there and be perfect to not lose the game. I think this was great for his confidence as well. That's a really tough lineup he went through for three innings. He hasn't done that in quite some time. Really impressive to see."

Trivino joked that it was nice to finally answer reporters' questions after a positive outing, which have been far too rare this season.

"It seems like recently, it's been telling you guys how terrible I am," Trivino said. "I finally felt behind the ball today. I was able to attack the hitters and throw all of my pitches for strikes. It was something that I really needed and I'm thankful that I was able to pull through for the team and give us a chance to win."

Soria's performance was just as important, as he grinded through two exhausting innings and 43 pitches himself. The veteran right-hander also had to overcome an error, picking up second baseman Corban Joseph in the 10th.

"Soria was impressive too because he was completely out of gas," Melvin said. "But when I went out to talk to him, he had no part of coming out of that game. He wanted that last out."

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Perhaps this will be the night that changes the fortunes for Oakland's bullpen. Maybe they can regain last season's form for the rest of the year.

At the very least, Friday provided an enormous boost of confidence for four pitchers who desperately needed it.

A's hoping A.J. Puk, Jake Diekman can steady bullpen in playoff push

A's hoping A.J. Puk, Jake Diekman can steady bullpen in playoff push

OAKLAND -- The A's bullpen has surprisingly been a liability all season long.

After blowing just 18 saves last year, tied for fifth-fewest in MLB, Oakland has already blown 22 saves this season, tied for third-most in the league. The bullpen's ERA is much worse too, up from 3.37 in 2018 to 4.12 this year.

So what's caused the drop in performance? Well, in short, Blake Treinen and Lou Trivino haven't looked like anything close to last year's versions. Treinen emerged as an All-Star closer in 2018, finishing the year with a 0.78 ERA. This season, his ERA has ballooned to 4.86.

Meanwhile, Trivino has suffered a serious sophomore slump with a 5.14 ERA in 50 appearances. That follows a tremendous rookie season in 2018 which saw him go 8-3 with a 2.92 ERA.

The A's added veteran reliever Joakim Soria in the offseason, signing him to a two-year, $15 million deal. But Soria has stumbled to the worst season of his career, going 1-4 with a 4.97 ERA.

Fortunately, the A's pen has the potential to improve for the stretch run. Oakland has already added hard-throwing left-hander Jake Diekman from the Royals. The 32-year-old picked up his first win of the season in Thursday's victory over the Astros. 

Perhaps even more significant, A's No. 2 prospect A.J. Puk appears to be nearing a call-up. Puk, 24, is coming off Tommy John surgery but has had no setbacks to this point and could be an extremely valuable late-inning option in Oakland.

"It seems like maybe he's kind of hitting his stride (in Las Vegas)," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "If he continues to pitch in the fashion that he is, there's a good chance you're going to see him here sooner than later."

Of course, the two bright spots in the A's bullpen this season have been right-handers Liam Hendriks and Yusmeiro Petit. Hendriks, 30, has emerged as a dominant closer, going 4-1 with 14 saves and a 1.54 ERA, along with 88 strikeouts in just 64 1/3 innings.

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Petit, 34, has been nearly as valuable, going 3-2 with a 2.60 ERA in a team-high 61 appearances. The veteran can pitch in just about any situation, for any amount of batters.

If the A's can find even one or two more reliable options, the pen will be in much better shape heading into September. Perhaps Puk and Diekman can make that happen.