A’s bullpen a classic case of ‘Jekyll and Hyde’

Come to the Oakland Coliseum and the Athletics will treat you to, among other things, one of baseball’s premiere bullpens. Watch them away from the East Bay, though, and that same bullpen struggles to string outs together.

The A’s (19-23) have played their way to an impressive 13-8 record in home games, but stumbled through 15 losses in 21 tries on the road just past the quarter-mark of the 2017 season. Much of the success in Oakland stems from a bullpen that has allowed 35 runs in 84-1/3 innings of work (3.74 ERA) in home games.

Conversely, it has been tagged with more runs (39) in fewer innings (53-1/3) on the road — a 6.58 ERA.

Manager Bob Melvin said, prior to Saturday’s game against the Boston Red Sox (21-20), team-wide confidence has been night and day:

“It’s not as good on the road, and as a team it’s not as good on the road. We’re playing a lot better at home, which is great I love playing better at home … but we’ve got to figure out the road thing, and it’s not just the bullpen, we’ve been just a better team here at home. For whatever reason, we’re just playing with a lot more confidence (at home).”

The month of May has offered a magnified view of those bullpen splits.

Over the past five-plus home games, A’s relievers have offered up 21 consecutive scoreless frames. In the midst of that very run, the group has been jumped for 14 earned runs in just 13-2/3 road innings (9.22 ERA).

Said Melvin:

“I wouldn’t say it’s just a bullpen thing, even though it is quite a run, that many scoreless innings in a row, but we feel like we have quality guys in the bullpen — we fell like we’re deep in the bullpen.”

And it goes beyond the simple metrics and 21-inning scoreless sprint, the bullpen has made Oakland home to hero wins.

The A’s have produced four walk-off wins this seasons. with four different swingers being made the hero. But a deeper look reveals the ‘pen as the true hero in each. In those four walk-off winners, the bullpen has contributed a combined 17-2/3 innings of three-run relief (1.53 ERA).

That relief corps, though, took on an evolution Saturday.

Righty Ryan Dull, whose 4.35 home ERA is by far the worst among active relievers, was placed on the 10-day disabled list with a strained right knee. According to Melvin, the pain was originally experienced on the first pitch to the final batter Dull faced in the ninth, prior to collecting his second win of the season, and it lingered through the night.

The skipper is hopeful the injury, which Dull experienced similar pain, though to a lesser ex will shelf the middle-inning man for  short time. He said that, while the leg is a much less worrisome body part to be injured than the arm, the knee is scary in its own right:

“Obviously, (the arm) is the biggest concern with a pitcher. But also, you just don’t want the ‘surgery’ word to come into play.”

Whether or not the “S-word” will come into play will likely be decided on Saturday with Dull scheduled for an MRI prior to the afternoon game.

While no injury is a positive for a pro sports franchise, this one comes at an opportune time. Dull was replaced on the roster by veteran right-hander John Axford, who boasts a 3.28 ERA in 36 career appearances in Oakland.

Axford was Melvin’s go-to set-up man in 2016. In his return, though, “The Ax Man” will find himself in more seventh innings than eighths. And that frame could be his immediately. Said Melvin:

“He might have to be thrown back into the fire. You usually want to give him one, so-called, ‘soft landing’ or so but I don’t know that that would be the case with him.”

Whether Axford can offer relief to his bullpen’s away woes, or if he can continue its run of dominance at home, is to be determined. But, there is no time better than the now, in the middle of an incredible run at home, to find out.


Kalama Hines is SFBay’s sports director and Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.