Oakland Athletics' Bullpen Suddenly Imploding But Help Could Be on The Way

By Karl Buscheck
Sean Doolittle
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

As noted by Susan Slusser, the Oakland Athletics bullpen was on the hook for four of the five losses on the recently concluded road trip as the group let in 15 runs over 18.2 innings for an 7.23 ERA.

Suddenly, the team’s vaunted group of relievers is scuffling badly, and after Grant Balfour served up an absolute moon shot to Kendrys Morales to give the Seattle Mariners a 6-3 walk-off win, it might just be time to start worrying about the bullpen.

Balfour gets a pass. The foul-mouthed closer missed his spot badly on the decisive pitch that Morales deposited deep into the right field seats, but that’s also his first loss since June 29, 2012.

Jerry Blevins is tied for the lead among AL relievers with five wins, but the tall lefty has also allowed five runs in his last six outings. That will happen, however, when you consider how wildly over used Blevins has been. In 2013, he has appeared in 35 of the team’s 78 games.

Ryan Cook has also been struggling recently. The hard-throwing right-hander has also allowed five runs in his past six outings after posting a sub-2.00 ERA in his first 27 appearances. But Cook was also ridiculously streaky last year, and the 26-year-old hasn’t allowed a home run since August of 2012. That can’t be said of the rest of his bullpen mates, and the ability to avoid the longball is always of value for a setup guy like Cook.

Sean Doolittle has also been less than sharp as of late. The left-hander has allowed 11 runs over his past 12 appearances, but he has only allowed two of 14 inherited runners to score on the season. Outside of Texas, Jesse Chavez has been nearly untouchable for the Athletics in his second stint with the club. Since being recalled on May 10, Chavez has put up a 1.74 ERA.

Pat Neshek has also been lights-out whenever he’s been called upon. The sidewinder hasn’t allowed a run in 13 of his last 14 outings. In just 3.2 innings, Dan Otero has already allowed three runs, which is the same number of runs that he allowed in 27.1 innings for the Sacramento River Cats. Of course, Otero is the fifth right-handed option out of the pen, so there’s no sense in getting too worked up by his struggles.

It seems quite possible that help could be on the way. Immediately after the loss to the Mariners, the team optioned Dan Straily to Sacramento as an odd scheduling quirk means the team won’t need a fifth starter until July 6.

With both of the club’s catchers hobbled, there’s a chance Straily’s roster spot could go to a catcher. If that’s the case, it’s likely the left-handed hitting Stephen Vogt would get the nod as the Athletics are due to face a pair of righties in the first two games of the series against the Cincinnati Reds.

Vogt had a forgettable 0-for-25 debut for the Tampa Bay Rays last year, but he’s hitting .329 with nine home runs for the River Cats. Luke Montz, who appeared for the Athletics earlier in the year, is also likely to be part of the conversation.

It appears far more likely, however, that Straily’s spot will go to a reliever. The obvious choices would be guys like right-hander Evan Scribner or left-hander Hideki Okajima. But if the Athletics want to be bold, and there’s a historical precedent for this, then they might just dig a little deeper.

In 10.2 innings for the Double-A Midland RockHounds, right-hander Brett Hunter has recorded 22 strikeouts. Those numbers look remarkably similar to Doolittle’s 19 strikeouts in 11 innings for the RockHounds last summer. To be fair, the club didn’t pluck Doolittle straight from the Texas League as he made a two-game cameo in Sacramento before getting the call to Oakland on June 4.

So maybe Tuesday will prove too soon for Hunter, but the seventh-round pick from all the way back in 2008 might just be the right-handed version of Sean Doolittle in 2013.

Karl Buscheck is an Oakland Athletics writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @KarlBuscheck or add him to your network on Google+.

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