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A’s call up eight players, experiment with new pitching strategy

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Daniel Mengden. (John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/TNS)

By Alex Hall
Special to S.F. Examiner

OAKLAND — The Oakland Athletics called up eight players on Saturday, and one of them will feature prominently in the evening’s game against the Mariners. Relief pitcher Liam Hendriks will start the game as the “opener” before quickly giving away to traditional starter Daniel Mengden.

In a strategy pioneered by the Tampa Bay Rays this season, Hendriks will pitch the first inning or two before being replaced by Mengden, who is usually a starter. Then Mengden can serve as what has become known as the “bulk guy,” throwing several innings as he normally would. In his last outing on Monday, he entered early in relief of an ineffective Brett Anderson and threw four scoreless innings.

“With starters going down, we’re going to have to use our bullpen anyway, and maybe it keeps the starter off of the top part or the middle part of the lineup one less time,” said manager Bob Melvin.

By delaying Mengden’s entrance, he can face the star-studded top of the lineup fewer times. Hendriks will begin the game by going against Mitch Haniger, Jean Segura, Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz, all of whom have been All-Stars either this season or last. Despite his 7.36 ERA in an injury-shortened season, Hendriks allowed just one run in his last 20 innings in Triple-A while striking out 35 of the 79 batters he faced (44 percent).

Saturday is the first day of September, which means active rosters expand from 25 to as many as 40. The A’s called up eight players: right-handed relievers Hendriks, Cory Gearrin and Chris Hatcher; lefty relievers Danny Coulombe and Dean Kiekhefer; catcher Beau Taylor and infielder Franklin Barreto, and activated outfielder Matt Joyce from the disabled list They now have 33 players active.

Gearrin was acquired from the Rangers in a trade on Friday, and Joyce returns from the disabled list after losing most of the season to a back injury. Hatcher, Hendriks, Coulombe and Barreto have each appeared in Oakland already this year. Kiekhefer last reached the majors in 2016 with the Cardinals, and Taylor gets the call for the first time in his eighth season in the A’s organization.

Regarding the new guys: Gearrin is a sinker/slider pitcher who throws in the mid-90s, Kiekhefer is particularly effective against left-handed batters and Taylor’s strong suit at the plate is his on-base ability.

A few of the new players needed to be added to the 40-man roster, so four others had to be removed. Kendall Graveman was called up and placed on the 60-day disabled list as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, and catcher Bruce Maxwell was designated for assignment after a year filled with off-field controversy and on-field struggles. Relief pitcher Josh Lucas and outfielder Boog Powell were outrighted to Triple-A Nashville.

The A’s face the Mariners on Saturday in the third of four games, after splitting the first two. Seattle will start lefty James Paxton, who is having a brilliant season. He last pitched on August 14, also against Oakland, but was hit in the arm by a line drive and briefly went on the disabled list.

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