The plan all along was for the A’s to bring opening day starter Brett Anderson back as an addition to the starting rotation after four month on the disabled list.
It’s looking increasing unlikely that will happen with 25 games left in the season and Anderson having pitched well in relief since coming off the disabled list He got four outs in the seventh and eighth innings, easing the transition from middle reliever Dan Otero to late men Ryan Cook and Grant Balfour Monday.
More than that, he starting rotation seems to be on an upsurge without him. After a string of so-so starts in early- and mid-August, the A’s starters are picking up the pace. In a stretch of eight games, seven of them Oakland wins, the starters have a composite 2.70 ERA.
Manager Bob Melvin said Anderson, who was the A’s opening day starter before a sprained right ankle and a subsequent stress fracture of his right foot cost him all of May, June and July in addition to most August, needs to be stretched out before he’s going to start.
A game like Monday, where he went 1.1 innings and threw only 19 pitches, won’t get him there.
But maybe for the next month, having Anderson push for a starting job is not in the A’s best interest.
Melvin hinted as much when he talked about Anderson after Monday’s win.
“We have a lot of guys in the bullpen who are a little tired,’’ Melvin said. “Brett is a nice piece to help our bullpen. And we are doing OK in the rotation.’’
–Dan Straily threw five innings and allowed two runs, and while he threw 91 pitches to get there, it was basically a solid performance that the A’s needed against one of the best offenses in the game.
Straily opened up by throwing nothing but fastballs, and took the Rangers by surprise, which Straily credited to catcher Kurt Suzuki.
“He wanted me to go fastball in, fastball in,’’ Straily said. “Left-handers were swinging and missing the fastball, and that’s not something that I usually get. Kurt got the job done.’’
–Grant Balfour has had more than his share of troubles lately. He hasn’t felt like himself. His fastball isn’t what it was.
For all of that, Balfour has managed to squirm his way out of trouble for the most part, including Monday when the Oakland closer opened the ninth with a walk and an looping single but managed to hold on to a 4-2 lead.
“I didn’t have a good fastball today, and I think they (the Rangers) knew,’’ Balfour said after his 36th save. “They had some good swings. I had to try to pitch with some guts.’’
That’s been more the case lately. He hasn’t had a clean ninth inning since Aug 24. In his last five appearances he’s thrown 4.2 innings, given up seven hits and five walks, has been charged with six runs, five earned, and has raised his ERA from 1.80 to its current 2.47.
Still, he keeps getting the ball, because in those five games he’s collected four saves. He did take a hard loss in Detroit last Wednesday on Torii Hunter’s walkoff homer, but, as Melvin said “it’s just one game.’’
“His velocity is not always there,’’ Melvin said. “It’s magnified in the case of a guy at the end of the game because you’ve got nowhere else to go. You’ve built it toward him. And he keeps performing, so you keep going to him.’’
Balfour admits he’s not at his best.
“I’m running on fumes out there right now,’’ he said. “I had a stretch like this last year, but last year I was throwing 97 (mph).
Now Balfour’s fastball is generally around 91 mph. His pitches have movement, but the command that he’s relied on over the years is elusive. He walked the first batter Monday. He also walked the first batter on Aug. 29 in the loss in Detroit that kept the A’s from a sweep of the Tigers in Motown.
“I know I’m better than that,’’ Balfour said.