OAKLAND -- Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle combined to record the final four outs of the A’s 5-3 win over the Royals on Saturday -- not unusual except that Doolittle, the designated closer, faced the final hitter of the eighth inning and Madson, the set-up man, came in for the save opportunity in the ninth.
Doolittle is off to a rocky start this season. He has a 6.75 ERA in seven appearances with one save and has allowed three home runs in 5 2/3 innings -- including one to the Royals’ Eric Hosmer on Friday night. Meanwhile, Madson, who has previous closing experience, recorded his third save for the A’s already this season.
Scenario was a factor in how the pitchers were used Saturday. Doolittle had faced three batters in the ninth inning Friday night, so he wasn’t entirely fresh. He entered in the eighth Saturday to face a left-handed hitter, Alex Gordon, with two outs, a runner on and the A’s holding a three-run lead. Doolittle got Gordon to fly out to end the inning.
Still, A’s manager Bob Melvin was asked after the game whether he might consider using Madson in more save opportunities going forward and gave this answer:
"It just depends. Today just because I used Doo last night I was going to limit his pitches. I wasn’t going to have him throw too much. We were going to extend (John Axford, who pitched 1 2/3 innings before Doolittle entered) more than anybody based on the fact he hadn’t pitched. And when that dynamic came up with Gordon in the eighth, we knew that Madson would be the ninth."
Madson did allow a run in the inning, but it was unearned due to an error by A’s second baseman Jed Lowrie. The error gave the Royals runners on first and second with no outs and left Madson facing pinch hitter Salvador Perez, who caught him last year in Kansas City, as the potential tying run. Madson got Perez to ground into a double play, and after Alcides Escobar’s RBI single, Mike Moustakas lined out to Lowrie to end the game.
"You know he’s going to be aggressive," Madson said of Perez, an All-Star the past three seasons. "If you can get ahead of him, try and expand as much as possible. I think that pitch was over the other batter’s box line, and he still hit it. But it was a double play, so it worked out."
After starter Sonny Gray got the A’s through six innings with a lead, Axford retired five batters in a row before Kendrys Morales’ two-out single in the eighth brought up Gordon and led Melvin to bring in Doolittle.
Doolittle said he felt he "could have handled a full inning (Saturday). But with the way Ax was pitching, obviously it worked out really well. He was throwing the ball great."
The end result was Melvin using his top three relievers to close out a tight win. Madson said getting that result even with some shuffling of roles could be viewed as a positive.
"When you have versatility like that, it’s huge," Madson said. "If you’ve got big lefties coming up in a certain situation and Bob has the option, it’s nice. As long as you have the guys, like I think we do, where it doesn’t matter where they pitch. I don’t care where I pitch -- I’ll pitch in the fifth inning, and I think it’s that way for everybody.
"When you have guys that are willing to do that it gives that flexibility and it also shows you have trust in your fellow bullpen guys, that they can pitch and get outs whenever they’re needed. It’s a great dynamic to have out in the bullpen and pretty unique, I think."