OAKLAND – No member of the A's bullpen has seen his role evolve more this season than right-hander Dan Otero, who began the year in Triple A, joined the A's in June and was the first reliever summoned by manager Bob Melvin in Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Friday night.
Otero forced the issue by allowing three earned runs over his final 29 outings in the regular season. A right-hander who doesn't throw particularly hard but generates a lot of sink, Otero has gained the confidence of Melvin to use him against both left- and right-handed hitters and in higher-leverage situations over the course of the season.
"He has that ninth-inning dynamic," Melvin said Friday. "And we'll use him in close games like we did tonight."
It's the faith that multiple teams didn't have in Otero last spring, when he was designated for assignment by the Giants – who drafted him in 2007 – and claimed by the Yankees, who designated him the next day. The A's picked him up and later designated Otero as well, but he cleared waivers and spent two months as the closer for Triple-A Sacramento.
Otero said Saturday that how his year unfolded is "something I'll probably look back on and appreciate more when the season's over – hopefully in about three weeks." But he admitted bouncing between teams in March wasn't easy.
"I wouldn't say it's a burden, but it definitely brings doubt into your mind if you're good enough," Otero said. "Teams obviously don't think of you as one of their guys. But I was able to, I guess, look past that and just do my thing."
Otero recorded a 0.99 ERA in 23 games in Sacramento before debuting with the A's on June 14. After allowing three earned runs in his first four appearances, he posted a 0.76 ERA after June 25.
"For me, there's always doubt," Otero said. "And that motivates me. It's something I was raised with by my parents, never to be satisfied."
Otero faced four hitters in Game 1 and retired them all on 15 pitches. His final hitter was reigning Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, who grounded out.
"I'd be lying to you if I said I wasn't aware of the situation," Otero said of facing Cabrera in the playoffs. "But once I got over that I knew I had to do my job, make good pitches and try to get him out. Thankfully, he hit a ground ball right to (Josh) Donaldson for me."
Melvin said he planned to have Seth Smith start Game 2 against the Tigers' Justin Verlander, and that taking Daric Barton out of the lineup was not a reaction to Barton's performance (three strikeouts, plus a couple of missed ground balls) in Game 1.
The A's will not hold a workout during today's off-day after arriving in Detroit early in the morning. The A's were scheduled to arrive around 6:30 a.m. local time with relatively little time to settle in before a 10:07 a.m. PST start in Monday's Game 3.
"It's an interesting turnaround," Melvin said. "It's one that's unique. But there's not a problem with adrenaline in the postseason."
After closing Game 1 of the series, Tigers right-hander Joaquin Benoit was quoted by MLB.com as saying: "I feel like we're on the verge of the World Series again."
Asked Saturday for his reaction to Benoit's comments, Melvin said he hadn't heard them. "Everybody handles things differently," Melvin said. "I don't think that affects us one way or the other."
Tigers manager Jim Leyland said he appreciates a certain level of confidence from his players but understood how Benoit's comments could come off as abrasive.
"I don't give advice, but I do say there is no sense in fueling fires," Leyland said. "We don't need to do that. We just need to go play."