'Good year' ahead for A's with revamped bullpen

January 24th, 2016

OAKLAND -- A flock of new relievers paraded into the Coliseum on Sunday morning at A's FanFest, collectively representing one of many reasons their teammates are projecting cautious optimism for the coming season following a disappointing 2015 campaign.

There's also the refurbished infield, which now includes defensive whiz Yonder Alonso at first base and the return of the versatile Jed Lowrie in the middle of the diamond, as well as several returning young players with a year of experience under their belt -- see Mark Canha, Marcus Semien, Billy Burns, Jesse Hahn and Kendall Graveman, among others.

"I think all those parts combined, we're going to have a good year," manager Bob Melvin said.

But the focus on Sunday was on a rebuilt bullpen, which now includes Ryan Madson, John Axford, Liam Hendriks and Marc Rzepczynski, and how this group is equipped to help diminish the memories of last year's one-run loss pile.

"The guys that we brought in, they're veteran guys, they've been on winning teams, they've pitched in the postseason, they've all pitched in some kind of setup or closing capacity, so they have that experience in high-level situations," closer Sean Doolittle said. "That can help not just the bullpen but the whole team, having those types of veteran guys with playoff experience. That goes a long way for a young team that's trying to bounce back and turn things around."

Doolittle's presence is equally paramount. Sidelined much of last season while nursing two different shoulder injuries, the lefty enters camp without any physical restrictions, prepared to close with new setup man Madson by his side.

Melvin foresees Hendriks and Axford as the likely seventh-inning options, with the likes of Rzepczynski, Fernando Rodriguez and Ryan Dull lingering in the sixth, combining for a potentially formidable bullpen headed by Doolittle.

"It doesn't feel like I have superhuman strength in my shoulder now, it just feels like how it's supposed to feel, normal and strong and fresh," Doolittle said. "I feel like I'm right where I need to be."

"That's everything," catcher Stephen Vogt said. "He's our closer. He's our guy. He's the leader of our bullpen. For him, obviously it wasn't the year he wanted, and that kind of deflated our bullpen from day one. Having him back and healthy, I'm very confident he's going to have his velocity back and have that life on his fastball we're used to seeing.

"I like where we are as a team. Obviously everybody has excitement going into every season, but I feel like we really did address some of the issues that we had last year. Bringing Jed back is going to bring a lot of stability to the middle of the order ... and with the bullpen additions, you have to be excited about the arms we brought in."