With the brand-new extra Wild Card spot and if the A’s continue to play well, they will spend the summer contending for a playoff spot.
That means every game is important, so manager Bob Melvin is trying to make sure that his team doesn’t lose games they should win.
He’s made a change at the end of the bullpen, inserting Brian Fuentes as the new closer and moving Grant Balfour into a setup role.
Whether or not it was warranted is up for debate, but Balfour told MLB.com he doesn’t think he deserved the demotion.
“I told him [Melvin] I wasn’t happy. I was [ticked] off. That’s fine. Whatever. I’ll go on the field and do what I gotta do.”
To his credit, Balfour hasn’t pitched that poorly. In nine save opportunities, he converted seven of them and posted a 4.24 ERA in 18 appearances this season. But three recent shaky outings must have had Melvin worried.
Worried enough to give the ball to Fuentes, who hasn’t exactly been Mr. Reliable during his Major League career. In 240 career save opportunities, Fuentes has blown 39 of them, including three last season.
But Fuentes has much more experience as a closer, which is where he feels comfortable, as he told The Chronicle’s Susan Slusser:
“It’s where I feel most comfortable, and I believe I can get the job done. It’s good to know he has that confidence in me.”
The move could also have something to do with increasing both players trade value. While the A’s may stay in contention for the next few months, GM Billy Beane is a smart man and knows that a lot of teams are having closer issues.
Nine closers have gone down with injuries and a handful more have lost their jobs. So almost half of the teams in baseball have some uncertainty in the ninth inning.
Slusser writes the A’s have been impressed with the job Ryan Cook has done in the 8th inning. He could be the closer of the future, making both Fuentes and Balfour available.
If Fuentes can show that he can be a reliable pitcher in the 9th inning, it gives Beane two trade chips that would make a lot of teams place a long distance call to the 510 area code.