A's success hides difficulty patchwork pitching presents


OAKLAND -- A's manager Bob Melvin announced the first pitcher for Tuesday’s game with the New York Yankees, and it is Liam Hendriks. The Liam Hendriks who opened the nine-pitcher extravaganza against Seattle on Saturday.
The Liam Hendriks who represents, “Pretty much all available hands on deck, kids.”
Fresh off their 6-3 win Monday over the Yankees, in which starting pitcher Trevor Cahill overcame an early bout of NIWIG (No Idea Where It’s Going), the A’s will go to what is almost surely another day of Full Tampa, which is the catch-all for “reliever on command.”
We mention this only because, as the A’s drew 40,546 a day after drawing 21,497, and two days after drawing 28,760, more of you than ever might be curious about what Melvin is doing with his overpopulated but still righteously taxed relief corps.
Well, it’s this: He’s trying to get the A’s to the finish line before anyone knows how monumental a task this has been.
Oakland's starting pitching has been thin all year, which nobody seemed to mind when they were bobbing around the .500 line. But now that they are a .710 team (49-20) since June 15, people are noticing them, and when they’re done marveling at what they’ve done to date, they are noticing the number of mirrors and amount of smoke that is involved.
Oh, the A’s score enough, as they did again Monday, routing CC Sabathia in less than 11 outs, scoring five times and getting seven hits from the first 11 plate appearances of their 1-5 hitters. They also catch and throw it very well indeed, remaining first in defensive efficiency (baseballreference.com).
But the pitching is the white-knuckle component of this Elephantine renaissance, and Hendriks’ opener tomorrow is proof of that. Melvin has to juggle his best relievers (Blake Treinen, Jeurys Familia, Lou Trivino and Fernando Rodney) with his depth relievers (Shawn Kelley, Yusmeiro Petit, Cory Gearrin) and his specialists. Ryan Buchter is his most reliable of the three left-handers he has, for example, but Melvin thinks that isn’t as much a problem as it seems.
“Ryan does all right against right-handers, and our 7-8-9 guys (Trivino, Familia and Treinen) get lefthanders out just as well as righthanders, so I think we can get by there,” Melvin said. “It’s just a matter of not overtaxing our best guys.”
Well, that’s what the Bullpen Army is for. That, and making someone in charge of bringing the eight extra chairs down the left-field line so that you don’t have a bunch of guys laying in the grass and getting in the way of everything.
Point is, the A’s have proven how well they can grind because they’ve been it for nearly 70 games now (and yes, you can guess what the actual number is, you creepsters), but grinding still takes it toll – on everyone. The four infielders (Matt Olson, Jed Lowrie, Marcus Semien and Matt Chapman) have had a total of two games off since July 1, and Jonathan Lucroy is second in games played among catchers. It’s September; tired is SOP.
But the A’s have been doing this winning-seven-of-every-ten-games thing with less margin for error than any of the other contenders, and Bob Melvin is enough of a worrier to fret about the secret trap door in this hallway to glory they have been running down for almost half a season now.
Just so you know. I mean, if you’re coming to the ballpark now that it’s safe to back a winner, you should know what you’re seeing, and why.

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