OAKLAND — During select late-season matchups, the Oakland A’s could eschew their starting rotation and instead use relief pitchers to go all nine innings. Their bullpen appears good enough — and deep enough — to consider the strategy.
But on Monday, manager Bob Melvin said he’s unlikely to use the “bullpen game” method unless injuries force his hand, even though he acknowledged recent trades have provided near-unprecedented back-end depth for his club.
“We have the ability to do it, but I think right now some of our starters are pitching as well as they have all year,” Melvin said. “At this point I don’t see us doing that.”
Oakland’s starters have posted a 1.83 ERA over the past 11 games, helping drive a continued climb up the standings. Right now, the A’s are up 1 1/2 games on the Seattle Mariners for the second AL Wild Card, and they’re just 2 1/2 games behind the Houston Astros for the division.
Still, after acquiring right-handers Jeurys Familia, Shawn Kelley and Fernando Rodney to bolster an already strong bullpen, Melvin could likely get more than nine high-quality innings from his relievers. He has three former All-Stars among the group and no one with an ERA above 4.00.
Familia, Blake Treinen, Lou Trivino and Yusmeiro Petit have each gone more than an inning at least five times this season. They’re capable of being stretched out if needed.
Melvin has already changed his managerial approach in one respect, significantly reducing the workload of his starting pitchers this season.
In 2017, A’s starters averaged about 94 pitches per outing, while this year they’ve averaged about 86 pitches. That quicker hook, he said, has prevented close games from getting away in the middle innings at a time when the playoff race has intensified.
The A’s will begin a three-game series against the Mariners on Monday.
“For us, we had to come a long way to get to the position we’re in now, so the intensity has been that way for a while,” Melvin said. “But I think based on the fact three of these teams are fairly close at this point, and we’re looking at  games left in the season, it’s more of a sprint now.
Injured right-handers Paul Blackburn and Jharel Cotton on Monday played catch for the first time since hurting their elbows. Andrew Triggs (tricep) also participated, though he’d thrown previously since going on the disabled list.
Melvin said Blackburn and Triggs could feature for the A’s before the end of the season, most likely as relievers. Their returns would provide even more insurance for the team’s bullpen.
“We’ll see how far we can build them up,” Melvin said. “We’ll see when we get there. I think based on what Triggs has gone through maybe we don’t build him up for a starter’s type role, but he’s been able to pitch out of the bullpen too.”
Outfielder Matt Joyce (back) is hitting off a tee and against soft toss in the batting cage. He is expected to take swings on the field sometime later this week.