The Oakland Athletics finally got a look at their Opening Day closer for the first time this spring. The verdict? As expected, more or less.
With less than two weeks left in Spring Training, Grant Balfour was running out of time to get geared up for the 2013 season. The righty had been recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery done in February that slowed this progress, but once he took the mound for his Grapefruit League debut, it was as though he’d been doing it all month long.
Pitching in the sixth inning of Thursday’s game against the Cincinnati Reds, Balfour made short work of the three batters he faced, needing just nine pitches to get through Devin Mesoraco, Derrick Robinson and Emmanuel Burris.
Aside from the fact that two out the three outs were grounders (which is important because Balfour isn’t exactly known for his ability to induce ground balls), his velocity was right where it should be at this time of the year, topping off at 94 mph, according to William Boor of MLB.com.
That’s good news for the A’s, because it’s not likely that the 35-year old will get too many more appearances in camp to really round into form.
2013 will be a crucial year for the nine-year veteran. Considering that Balfour is in a contract year, he’ll want to hold on to the ninth inning job all season long, which may be easier said than done.
After all, he’d just have to look behind him to see Ryan Cook, the setup man who’d won Balfour’s job on the Athletics in June last season before the incumbent won it back. Beyond that, that’s also strikeout artist Sean Doolittle, who might be groomed to take over the role after 2013.
So, while Balfour’s closing role is by no means a lock (as with most teams around the league), the fact that he has the first shot at the job when the season beings is not an advantage he’d like to relinquish.
It might just be a meaningless one-inning appearance, and you surely can’t judge readiness on nine pitches; but, considering that he needed to demonstrate that there would be no surgery-related concerns, it was as good of a first impression as Balfour could have made on the A’s this spring.