Ryan Cook was not sharp yesterday afternoon in his outing against the Los Angeles Dodgers. With the Oakland Athletics holding a 4-2 lead as the game entered the bottom of the eighth, Cook started with a clean slate, but went just 1/3 of an inning. In that time, the struggling righty was charged with six runs on four hits and a walk, with the major damage being done on a grand salami off the bat of Darnell Sweeney.
While his cumulative 18.90 ERA (worst on the team) and ten runs allowed (seven earned) could just be a case of Cook working out the kinks, many fan’s lasting memory of Cook from last season was a barrage of walks late in the season against the Houston Astros that cost the Oakland Athletics a game they sorely needed. This spring, the damage has been done on eleven hits and a walk, while he has struck out just two over 3 1/3 innings.
While none of this is flattering news for A’s fans, the second-worst ERA on the Oakland Athletics this spring belongs to the player we all expect to be the closer in Sean Doolittle‘s absence: Tyler Clippard. The new acquisition has pitched 2 2/3 innings this spring and has allowed four runs on six hits and two walks, while striking out one for a 13.50 ERA.
The bit of news that isn’t comforting in regards to Ryan Cook is that he’s struggling against batters that Baseball-Reference ranks as Double-A players, or a 7.3 according to their scale. Clippard is also in this range, but is facing a little stiffer competition, with the batters he faces ranking at a 7.9. An 8 signifies Triple-A players, while a 10 is for MLB talent.
All of this leads to one question: are there two relievers that are pitching well enough to make the club over Ryan Cook? The obvious answer is, if Cook has the worst ERA on the team, there has to be another option, but the decision may not be that simple.
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With Doolittle out to start the season, the A’s need one player to fill his spot. Regulars Dan Otero, Clippard, Fernando Abad and Eric O’Flaherty will make the team, with a long relief option being added as well. For the sake of this piece, let’s throw Jesse Chavez in there and say that Kendall Graveman (0.93 in 9 2/3 innings) and Drew Pomeranz (1.80 in 5 innings) are added to the rotation along with Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir and Jesse Hahn.
First the longshots. While Susan Slusser is enamored with switch-pitcher Pat Venditte, the 29-year old has a 4.50 ERA against batters ranking at a 5.9 (High-A Ball). While this would be a fantastic story and we’re all rooting for him, he’ll need a longer look against some big league talent to be truly considered.
Brock Huntzinger isn’t the first name that comes to mind when you’re asked who could join the Oakland Athletics bullpen, but he’s had a solid spring thus far. In five innings, he’s allowed just one run on four hits and walk while striking out three. Like Venditte, he’ll need to face stiffer competition to lay claim to a spot. Thus far he’s faced Double-A talent (7.1).
Now for three players that we can make an argument for, starting with Fernando Rodriguez. He is the only remnant left in Oakland from the Jed Lowrie deal, and he pitched nine innings of one-run ball for the A’s last season (over seven games) after recovering from Tommy John surgery. This spring, Rodriguez has allowed two hits in 3 2/3 innings, and has yet to allow a run. He’s been facing Triple-A talent in his appearances (8.2).
Next, Eury De La Rosa, who is a player the the Oakland Athletics acquired from the Diamondbacks in December. The fact that he’s coming to Oakland from Arizona should tell you this would be a solid choice, as many of their acquisitions from the desert have panned out. Yes, that is a funny thing to say when writing about whether or not Ryan Cook should make the team.
Anyway, while De La Rosa’s ERA is at a 4.50 through four innings, he’s also been facing the closest to major league level talent this spring (9.5). Add in that he’s a lefty, which would give the A’s three in the ‘pen (O’Flaherty, Abad) and that could be enough to land De La Rosa a spot in the bullpen.
Finally, there is R.J. Alvarez, who easily has the best hair/beard combo on the list. A couple of months ago, I wrote about his projections as a closer down the line, and pondered if he could be the setup man in Oakland this year. Of course, this was before Clippard was added to the mix, but the point being that Alvarez has serious potential.
In limited spring action, Alvarez has an ERA of 2.25 in four innings, allowing one run on two hits and three walks while striking out four. He is a 23-year old righty and can hit the mid-90’s on the gun.
The question for the Oakland Athletics is now this: do two of these players outweigh what Ryan Cook would be able to give the team? What do you think A’s fans? Let us know in the comments below!