The former Mets closer and 2016 All-Star will not replace Blake Treinen, whose 1.08 ERA is second-best among all MLB pitchers with more than seven innings pitched, as Oakland’s everyday closer. But on the rare occasion that the workhorse is unavailable, Familia, who will wear the number 32 instead of his normal 27 which is retired in Oakland (Catfish Hunter), offers manager Bob Melvin an excellent backup option — one with more than five seasons of big league experience and 123 career saves.
After throwing 40 pitches Saturday, Treinen was not an option for the Oakland skipper Sunday. And Familia, who arrived in the Bay Area from New York about 90 minutes before first pitch, came to the A’s rescue in a 10-inning walk-off win tossing two scoreless and earning a win in his Oakland debut.
Matt Chapman, who collected the first walk-off hit of his career Sunday, said he was surprised by Familia’s ability to be as effective as he was under such strenuous circumstances — but not that surprised:
“Obviously, that’s not an easy thing to do (travel across country and pitch two scoreless innings) but from what I’ve heard about him, and seen — I played against him last season — he seems like a guy that would be able to handle that.”
Regardless of his reputation, Melvin was impressed. But Oakland’s new right-handed bullpen arm brushed off the busy 24-hour blitz, saying he slid comfortably into the high-energy atmosphere provided by the playoff-hopeful A’s and their cross-Bay rivals:
“For the first time of the year, I felt really comfortable. You can see the energy and excitement in the team, that made me feel really comfortable to be here.”
As Melvin said though, the best way to get comfortable is pitching well:
“What a great first look. When you have that kind of a trade, and you come to a new team, first impressions are important. When you pitch the way he did, it makes you feel like part of the team. He was terrific.”
Oakland’s Sunday starter, Sean Manaea, went beyond Melvin’s claim of Familia’s effort being terrific, calling it “unbelievable:”
“I remember watching him in the World Series a couple years ago and then just watching him today, his stuff is nasty. I’m super-excited to have him.”
Familia threw 22 pitches in his two innings and reached 99 miles per hour with his sinker, backing it up with a slider between 87 and 89 miles per hour. He allowed one hit, one of three collected by San Francisco’s Austin Slater, and struck out one. The contact he did allow, in the ninth inning (his first) at least, was on the ground — Slater’s lead-off single was a grounder through the right side and Alen Hanson grounded into an inning-ending double play after Steven Duggar struck out.
That’s what Familia does, he is a groundball-strikeout guy — like Treinen — the most sought-after bullpen tool in the game. At his best, like he was in 2016 when he led the big leagues in saves (51), Familia boasts a groundball rate above 60 percent and the ability to strike out more than one per inning.
Trevor Cahill saw Familia firsthand when his Mets beat Cahill’s Cubs in the 2015 NLCS and described him as a “weapon.” Jonathan Lucroy faced him as a member of the Brewers and said he is glad to be catching him, rather than trying to hit him:
“This guy is going to fit right in with (Lou) Trivino and Treinen at the end of the bullpen. This guy is power stuff, I faced him while I was in Milwaukee and it wasn’t too much fun. Really, really dominant sinker — high-velocity guy.”
The joy of having Familia as a friend rather than foe is a wide-spread emotion in the Oakland clubhouse, and the feeling is reciprocated, though it was a tough farewell in New York.
For eleven years, the Mets organization is the only one Familia had known, and the players he had befriended there were the only ones with whom he had played. Now, the 28-year-old has been cast across the country where he’d had previous contact with only two players — Yusmeiro Petit and Edwin Jackson.
Perhaps, for that reason, it is a bit of fortune that veteran reliever Santiago Casilla was released by the A’s earlier in the week, vacating the locker located between Petit’s and Jackson’s — where Familia stood in a grey longsleeved undershirt and crispy new A’s hat after Sunday’s game.
Finding himself neighbored with the only two players he called friends before Sunday will offer a buffer until his comfort with the rest of the club grows.
As for his role, when Familia isn’t taking the ninth inning for a downed Treinen he will slide down to the eighth, or maybe even seventh ahead of Trivino and Treinen, asked to get holds instead of saves, something he hasn’t done since 2014. As he said Sunday however, the role isn’t what Familia is focused on, his only focus is contributing to wins:
“I’m not really concerned with (my role), it’s something that comes with (pitching). Whether I’m pitching in the seventh, eighth or ninth inning, I just want to help the team win. My main goal is to help the team win.”