Oakland Athletics’ reliever Ryan Madson has earned the first two saves of the season instead of the designated closer Sean Doolittle
Going into the 2016 season with Sean Doolittle healthy, it seemed obvious that he would be the Oakland Athletics’ closer. Behind Doolittle, there was a plethora of new green and gold talent including Ryan Madson, John Axford, and Liam Hendriks to name a few. All of these relievers seemed to have a set role going into the regular season. However, throughout the first week of 2016 play, it seems as though these roles may be a bit more fluid that initially thought.
Over the five games that took place this past week, it was actually Madson who collected the team’s first two saves of 2016. On Friday, Doolittle pitched the eighth inning and earned a win. Axford also secured the first hold for the Athletics this year. Lastly, Hendriks, Ryan Dull, and Fernando Rodriguez have picked up the slack wherever they are needed.
So, is Doolittle no longer the Oakland Athletics’ designated closer? It seems as though this may be the case. Manage Bob Melvin told the press it is great that a true closer like Doolittle is ok with taking the mound in the eighth inning if that is what is best for the team. Melvin also mentioned that the relievers will take the mound based on the best matchup. Jane Lee from MLB.com wrote that Rodriguez, who pitched well in relief against the Seattle Mariners on Friday, told reporters that the typical bullpen roles do not matter much to the relievers in the pen and that they feel as though they all could go out in the late innings in order to save a game.
This is an interesting attitude to take especially for this bullpen who struggle last year because the roles were not defined. While Doolittle was hurt in 2015, the relief staff could not seems to find a steady rhythm because their closer was not there to anchor the bullpen. Additionally, it threw off the pen to have different relievers take on the same role as the setup or cleanup man.
However, it seems as though this 2016 bullpen is a little more laid back. They respect each other’s talent and there are no overpowering egos among the relief staff. They all want to help the team win and are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve this — even if it means switching up the relief roles once and awhile.
As long as this approach works for the bullpen this year, then they should continue to use their relievers in the best matchup scenarios. However, the Oakland Athletics should be cautious in case this experiment takes a turn for the worst. If at some point the A’s need to define those bullpen duties once again, they should have a clear idea of who will fill each role.