A’s Closer and Set-Up Roles Becoming Defined


May 30, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics catcher Derek Norris (36, left) and relief pitcher Sean Doolittle (62) celebrate after the game against the Los Angeles Angels at O.co Coliseum. The Athletics defeated the Angels 9-5. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

In past articles I’ve been critical of the A’s bullpen (Athletics’ Bullpen Is Making Every Game An Adventure and Lack of Effective “Closer” Hurting A’s ). After the last month of play, it appears certain aspects of the ‘pen are starting to get it together.

Effective set-up men and a closer have been chief components in the Athletics AL Pennant winning seasons. In an ideal game the starting pitcher goes seven innings, hands over to the setup man who pitches the eighth, the closer closes out the ninth, and a team goes home victorious – Sounds like the A’s of June. Actually, in an ideal world the starter pitches so well that he’s able to pitch into the eighth or even the ninth and the team’s bullpen doesn’t have to pitch at all and get a day’s rest. – “Ideal” games aren’t very common these days.

In the 70s, the A’s had Paul Lindblad and Darold Knowles to set up, and occasionally close, for Fireman Rollie Fingers to come into the game. In the 1988-1990 seasons, it was Rick Honeycutt and Gene Nelson setting up for closer Dennis Eckersley.

Last year the A’s saw similar combinations with Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle in the middle innings before the appearance of Grant Balfour. Now similar results are happening with Luke Gregerson and Dan Otero in middle relief prior to Sean Doolittle coming in to close things down.

No one can doubt Doolittle has stepped in for the closer role void left by the departure of Balfour and the failed succession of Jim Johnson. Since taking over, Doolittle is a perfect 6-for-6 in saves in June with a 0.00 ERA and 10 of 11 for saves in the year.

Until now, I’ve been harsh of Gregerson; he started the season with a MLB leading five blown saves and allowing eight inherited runners to score. Currently, at least until last Saturday with a “blown” save opportunity, Gregerson has been lights out – and should still be albeit a farcical call by the vision-impaired Quinn Wolcott. In his last 15 appearances, Gregerson has a stingy 1.15 ERA (again, it would be lower if a home plate ump knew how to ask for help)

Otero, 2-0 with a 1.65 ERA in June, is pitching out of critical situations in middle innings shutting down opponent offenses and got his first career save filling in for Doolittle last Thursday vs. the Boston Red Sox.

The others in the pen, namely Cook and Johnson, are still going to have to prove themselves to make amends from their disastrous outings before they get a pardon from me, Johnson, even though used in pretty-much mop-up roles, still has a 5.58 ERA with opponents batting .340 against him in June.

Cook hasn’t been much better. One of the top relievers last season, Cook is sitting with a 7.36 ERA since returning from the DL on June 4 allowing nine hits and three walks in only seven innings of work.

So now, with the pen getting it together and a five game lead in the AL West with a 47-29 record, history can be repeated in 2014 with another pennant.