Melvin must shape A’s into ego-less underdogs

Oakland Athletics manager Bob Melvin has words with umpire Gerry Davis after a call during a baseball game against the Seattle Mariners on Sunday in Seattle. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)

OAKLAND — If the A’s are going to shock the baseball world – a trick they’ve pulled off with remarkable regularity under the watch of Bob Melvin – the club is going to need the skipper to keep working his managerial magic.

“Believe me, Melvin’s the best [manager] I’ve ever seen. I’m serious. I’ve been around a long time,” said Ray Fosse, who is embarking on his 30th season in the team’s radio booth and his 27th on the television side. “And nothing against Dick Williams and Al Dark [who combined to guide the franchise to back-to-back-to-back World Series titles in the 1970s]. He’s the best I’ve ever seen.”

What makes Melvin so great is that he never stops talking.

“I try to communicate with guys all the time,” Melvin explained, as he holds court in the home dugout on Monday afternoon before the A’s fall 4-1 to the Angels. “So, when I do broach stuff, it’s not a surprise.”

That constant dialogue with his squad is one of the key reasons why the bullpen has gone from disastrous to dominant.

It doesn’t hurt that Melvin can call on three relievers with closing experience in Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson and John Axford, but what makes that trio even more effective is that they’ve all bought into the plan of being deployed in interchangeable roles.

Over the weekend in Seattle, Doolittle was a setup man on Friday night and back to the familiar closer’s gig on Sunday afternoon.

“It would be very easy for Sean, who was given the closer role, who was hurt last year but the year before he signed a contract that stipulated if he’s a closer he gets more money [to have an ego],” Fosse said. “But he pitches the eighth. He’s pounding his fist after he got out of the eighth inning.”

For Melvin, the juggling act gets even more complicated when it comes to drawing up the lineup on a nightly basis. Billy Butler and Coco Crisp – the top two earners on the roster – have been relegated to part-time duties at the beginning of 2016.

“Billy’s got to be upset,” Fosse admitted of the veteran designated hitter who’s been left out of the starting lineup four days in a row. “[Melvin] called him in [to his office]. Instead of letting Billy look at the lineup and see he’s not there and get pissed, he called him in and said, ‘Hey Billy we’re going to try and win.’”

Crisp, who looks like he’s taken a time machine back to 2014 when he was the engine that fueled the lineup, has given Melvin a conundrum in center field.

The manager has to figure out how to keep the veteran table-setter healthy and productive while also finding enough at bats for Billy Burns, one of the few bright spots in a bleak 2015.
Then there’s the case of Chris Coghlan, who is the single most versatile player that the front office has ever handed to Melvin – the master of platoons.

Coghlan has started the last five games at five different positions, which means he’s bound to steal playing time from a different regular just about every night of the week.

As the skipper continues to shuffle his bullpen and his lineup in an effort to make the A’s surprise contenders in an American League West race where the Astros and the Rangers stand out as the heavyweights, one thing is for certain: Melvin is always available for a chat.

“The door is open – come in and talk or he calls guys in to talk, to explain what’s going on,” Fosse said. “I think that’s the biggest attribute for this ball club.”

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