OAKLAND – The A’s settled on an eight-man bullpen to start the season, which means left-hander Daniel Coulombe and right-hander Frankie Montas both made the roster for Monday night’s opener against the Angels in the Coliseum.
It also means that outfielder Jaff Decker did not make the team and that Mark Canha, who has extremely limited experience in center field, will be the backup there, and that it will be tough to get Rajai Davis much time off as the starter in center.
At the same time manager Bob Melvin did not name anyone to be the closer, so that may be a game-time decision with the A’s having four relievers – Ryan Madson, Santiago Casilla, Sean Doolittle and John Axford – who have had 22 or more saves in a season at least once in the last three years.
“We are going to go with eight men in the bullpen, which means we have a three-man bench,” Melvin said before Saturday’s Bay Bridge Series finale against the Giants. “Canha’s the backup in center, and I’m comfortable with it.
“Raj is going to get the brunt of the time, but he’s comfortable with it, and how long we’ll stay with eight relievers, we’ll see.”
One of the issues facing the A’s is a young starting rotation, with no pitcher over 27 and only one of those with a full season in the big leagues.
Another factor is a schedule that sees Oakland play eight consecutive games beginning Monday. Longer term, the A’s will have games on 20 of the season’s first 21 days. There figures to be plenty of work for relievers.
“It looked like early in the season we have some young starters we are trying to protect,” Melvin said. “You never know what kind of innings you’re going to get out of the complete group. So when you have somebody like Frankie who can give you multiple innings, and be effective, and he also pitched well enough to make the team.”
Montas will be the second of three pitchers the A’s got from the Dodgers in the trade of Rich Hill and Josh Reddick to the Dodgers last summer on the opening day roster. Jharel Cotton is the other and will man the No. 3 spot in the starting rotation.
Montas is the owner of a 100-mph fastball, a weapon that tantalizes, and this spring he had a 0.77 ERA and a WHIP of 0.943.
“So all those things considered, this is the way we’re going,” Melvin said, “at least to start.”
The toughest conversation Melvin had to have was with Decker, who had a run-saving catch in center field and an RBI double Friday in AT&T Park and who hit .313 for the spring while showing flashes of quality defensive work.
“That was the hardest one. He did everything you can do to make the team,” the manager said. “Had we not gone with eight relievers he would have made the team, and I told him that.”
Decker will head to Triple-A Nashville to start the season, but there is an expectation in Oakland that he may not be there long.
“I would be surprised if he’s not here at some point in time,” Melvin said.
Coulombe, who allowed just one run in his final four appearances of the spring, was something of a given, being that he’s the only other lefty reliever on the roster besides veteran Sean Doolittle. Montas was more of a question mark, given that the A’s see his future in the starting rotation.
“It’s got kind of a unique arm,” Melvin said. “He’s really a starter, yet he has the ability to give you length. Not only did he do it in the Fall League, where he pitched three innings at a time, but he’s pitched almost every time out one-plus or two innings for us. It’s nice to know that you have that guy at the back end that you can run out there at least one time around the lineup.
“You always look at him as a starter until it works the other way.”
Decker had hoped to make the roster because he’s capable of playing any of the three outfield spots. Canha has played left and right in the big leagues, but he’s only played center field in eight games this spring, although seven of his last 10 games before Saturday were in center as the A’s contemplated this move.
As for the closer’s slot, Melvin may have one guy in his mind, but if so, he declined to commit.
“We talked about the bullpen dynamic amongst the group,” Melvin said. “I’m not going to say `this is the guy who’s going to close.’ We’ll see come opening day who’s out there for the ninth inning. It might have a little to do with matchups, too.”