Doolittle, Cook likely fill-ins if Balfour slow to return to A’s following surgery

PHOENIX – The A’s will be without closer Grant Balfour for between 4-6 weeks after he has arthroscopic surgery on the meniscus in his right knee Thursday afternoon.

That’s the best-case scenario, and the A’s are optimistic that it’s realistic, given that it’s not an elbow or shoulder injury that has Balfour down.

But if it were to be longer – injuries have their own timelines for healing, after all – it would be left to right-hander Ryan Cook and left-hander Sean Doolittle to get the first cracks at the job until such time as Balfour is ready.

“Those are the obvious choices,’’ manager Bob Melvin said. “And obviously this is where our depth comes into play.’’

In the last few weeks Oakland general manager Billy Beane has added Francisco Rodriguez, a hard-throwing right-hander, and veteran left-hander Hideki Okajima to the mix. Neither is likely to close, but either could step up and help fill the spots vacated by setup men Doolittle and Cook, if needed.

Balfour came to Melvin and the A’s medical crew Wednesday to let them know he was having pain in his right knee, something he’d felt toward the end of last year. Balfour went ahead and threw a bullpen session later in the morning, but was sent for an MRI in the afternoon.

The MRI showed a tear in the meniscus, and the A’s will have Dr. Doug Freedberg perform the surgery at 2 p.m. today.

“The doctors say he’ll be pitching in 4-6 weeks after the surgery, so if there was any time to have it, with a long spring, this is it,’’ Melvin said, noting that the A’s are at the beginning of a seven-week spring training. That’s a week longer than usual thanks to the World Baseball Classic.

“He’s all right,’’ Melvin said. “He’s a grinder, and he feels he’ll be able to rehab it with this long spring.’’

In a release given out by the club, Balfour sounded relatively upbeat.

“I didn’t know what it was other than it was a little sore,’’ Balfour said of his right knee. Obviously we were in a pennant race, so I was going to pitch. (After the season) it kind of went away. I was able to work out with very little soreness, so I really wasn’t concerned.

“I feel good about getting it done now. It will allow me to get ready for Game 1 of the season. I knew the way I was feeling I wouldn’t have been able to pitch through it all season long.’’

John Hickey

A longtime baseball writer three years into in his second go-round covering to the Oakland A's beat after a dozen years covering the Seattle Mariners. Covered the A's through the late 1980s and 1990s.