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A’s will need Cook, defense to gel before too much longer

The first couple of weeks of June have been tough on reliever Ryan Cook.

The first couple of weeks of June have been tough on reliever Ryan Cook.

There are going to be nights or days like the one the A’s lived through Monday in losing to the Rangers 14-8.

Take Sept. 11, 1927.

The New York Yankees went out and lost 6-2 to the St. Louis Browns that Sunday afternoon. The Yankees had played the Browns 21 times already that season. The Bronx Bombers were 21-0 in those other games. They waited until their final game of the year to lose. Who knows why.

(For that bit of arcane information, I thank baseball-reference.com, which has to be one of the top five websites on the planet. I have no idea what the other four are).

But there are some troubling signs for the A’s coming out of this one. For one, the defense committed three more errors. That only meant that 13 of the 14 runs Oakland pitching gave up were earned, but it also meant that the A’s looked disheveled and off-kilter, a side of themselves they seldom show.

And then there was another rocky performance by Ryan Cook. The right-handed reliever was an All-Star two years ago as a closer and a top-quality setup man last year. But a shoulder injury in spring training and an elbow injury in late April have scrambled his season.

Since he came back in early June, he’s pitched in six games, a total of 4.1 innings, allowing nine hits and five runs. His ERA along the way has popped from 2.92 to 4.86.

Did he come back too quickly? Is his stuff not up to par?

Manager Bob Melvin doesn’t seem to believe so.

“The velocity has been pretty good,’’ Melvin said. “The slider has been sharp at times. He’s just missing in his spots, just getting behind, not throwing enough strikes to be able to use his breaking stuff effectively.’’

Because the injuries have limited his availability, Cook hasn’t been a major player with the A’s this year in their race to what is now a four-game lead in the American League West. But if the A’s are going to carry this all the way to the finish, Cook is very likely going to have to be an impact performer.

He throws in the mid 90-mph range, higher at times, and generally throws strikes and hits corners. When he does, he can be an effective eighth-inning setup man or a closer in the ninth if the need presents itself.

With Jim Johnson not likely to get another shot at closing anytime soon, the A’s are going to need a right-handed option to the left-handed Sean Doolittle, and Cook has the tools to be that guy.

But Cook must ride out this storm. Lately he’s had trouble keeping the ball down, and the result, as was the case in the Monday opener against the Rangers, can be a two-run double like the one Adrian Beltre hit in the fourth, or the two-run homer like Michael Choice hit in the fifth.

As for the defense, that could be a festering problem. Oakland has been very good at minimizing the defensive dysfunction. Before last night, despite the high error total, they’d only allowed 17 unearned runs, the second-lowest unearned run total.

The longer the season goes with the defense committing this level of errors, the harder it’s going to be for the pitching to cover up for the fielders.

John Hickey

Returning to the Oakland A's beat after a dozen years covering the Seattle Mariners. Covered the A's through the late 1980s and 1990s.