'Every inning counts': Inside the A's bullpen competition

March 29th, 2022

MESA, Ariz. -- The A’s bullpen has a much different landscape from past seasons after losing several fixtures via free agency this past offseason.

Lou Trivino is one of the few remaining relievers left from last season and he should have the closer job locked down. Fellow right-handers Deolis Guerra and Domingo Acevedo also spent time with Oakland in 2021 and figure to slot in somewhere behind Trivino. What other pitchers make up the relief corps? That remains to be determined, with a large part of that evaluation hinging on Spring Training performance.

“There’s going to be some competition. Everyone is an option,” said A’s manager Mark Kotsay. “Every inning counts here, and we’re going to try to get as many guys in these games as we can to evaluate them.”

With just over a week of Cactus League games in the books, here’s a look at several relievers who are vying for bullpen roles this spring, with input from A’s pitching coach Scott Emerson:

LHP A.J. Puk
Spring stats: Three games, 7.71 ERA, five strikeouts, five walks in 4 2/3 innings
2021 stats (with A's): 12 games, 6.08 ERA, 16 strikeouts and six walks in 13 1/3 innings
Emerson: “Just gotta throw more strikes. That’s always been A.J.’s thing. To have that ability to just throw strikes and move the baseball around. I think sometimes when you get caught up in bad counts, and you get up here and everybody in the league knows you throw hard, they’re gearing for hard. If you’re behind the count, constantly throwing hard inside the strike zone, I think that gains an advantage to the hitters. Just reminding A.J. to pitch a little bit out there and throw strikes and get in good counts is always going to be a plus.”

LHP Kirby Snead
Spring stats: Two games, 9.00 ERA, two walks in two innings
2021 stats (with Blue Jays): Seven games, 2.35 ERA, seven strikeouts and two walks in 7 2/3 innings
Emerson: “He’s got a good live arm. Moves his baseball around. Kirby is one of those guys that is a strike-thrower with a good breaking ball. We just have to keep seeing him and see how it plays out.”

RHP Zach Jackson (non-roster invitee)
Spring stats: Three games, 0.00 ERA, six strikeouts, one walk in three innings
2021 stats (combined at Double-A and Triple-A): 25 games, six saves, 2.57 ERA, 47 strikeouts, 13 walks in 28 innings
Emerson: “Zach has come here to compete, and that’s what I really admire about him. He got into a jam in his second game and struck out the side. Good electric arm, but he moves fast. Sometimes that 95 mph can play up with a guy that moves fast. And then he’s got that tremendous curveball; it’s one of the best curveballs I’ve seen. I never saw Bert Blyleven’s curveball live, but I’ve seen it on TV and I compare his curveball to Bert Blyleven. It’s a nasty curveball. It’s a plus pitch for him. Again, it’s still all about knowing how to use it and throwing strikes to set it up with that good fastball. He’s got a really good changeup that we haven’t seen yet in a game, so he’s got a three-pitch arsenal.”

RHP Dany Jiménez (non-roster invitee)
Spring stats: Three games, 0.00 ERA, two strikeouts, one walk in 2 1/3 innings
2021 stats (with Triple-A Buffalo): 39 games, 2.22 ERA, 73 strikeouts, 25 walks in 44 2/3 innings
Emerson: “I like Dany. He comes with a good career strikeout rate. We’re working on the little things. Shortening down that delivery to be able to hold runners. He came in and got us out of a jam in a Spring Training game. You’re always looking for those guys that can come in the middle of an inning and squash the inning. Dany did that. His Minor League numbers are off the charts. It’s just about watching him pitch over the next week and seeing where he’s at.”

RHP Adam Oller
Spring stats: Two games, 13.50 ERA, four strikeouts, one walk in 3 1/3 innings
2021 stats (combined with Double-A and Triple-A): 23 games, 3.45 ERA, 138 strikeouts, 47 walks in 120 innings
Emerson: “Strikes. He hadn’t been a huge strikeout guy. Then you look up and he punched out four in two innings. We’re talking with him about using his fastball a little bit when he needs it. I think he’s got a good fastball that he’s shied away from over the last couple of years. Really good changeup that he shied away from in the last few years. He’s a breaking-ball-type guy. He can spin it. He can cut the cutter. Once this guy learns how to command that fastball when he throws, and uses that good changeup -- he punched out Jason Heyward on a 3-2 changeup the other day, which I wasn’t expecting -- I think he’s got a four-pitch mix. If he uses it, it’s definitely starter material.”

RHP Grant Holmes
Spring stats: Two games, 9.00 ERA, one walk in two innings
2021 stats (with Triple-A Las Vegas): 36 games, 8.01 ERA, 71 strikeouts, 40 walks in 66 1/3 innings
Emerson: “With him, it’s strikes. How many strikes can we throw? Can we expand the strike zone ahead? Can we throw something soft behind in the count? I’ve always been a fan. I think he needs to just get on that mound and pitch with that good aggressiveness that he’s had throughout most of his career and get that demeanor back of, ‘I’m the dude.’ That’s what I want to see out of Grant. When he does that, he’s got a 95-96 mph fastball with some movement and a good breaking ball.”

LHP Sam Selman
Spring stats: Three games, 0.00 ERA, four strikeouts, three walks in 3 1/3 innings
2021 stats (combined with Giants and Angels): 25 games, 5.76 ERA, 19 strikeouts, 12 walks in 25 innings
Emerson: “He’s generally a strike-thrower with his fastball and moves it around. Pretty good breaking ball. I expect him to go out and pound the strike zone. With him, it’s just constantly working on that breaking ball. Having that good breaking ball for left-handed hitters and the ability to move that fastball around. It’s always good to have guys that know what to expect in the big leagues. He knows how to work it.”