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A's starting CF job, bullpen spot up for grabs

MLB.com @JaneMLB

MESA, Ariz. -- The A's concluded play in the desert and returned to Oakland on Saturday with lingering roster questions in tow.

While their rotation is essentially set, it remains to be seen how the A's will fill out their bullpen. They also haven't decided on a center fielder; and while Jake Smolinski appears to be the favored backup there, nothing has been made official.

MESA, Ariz. -- The A's concluded play in the desert and returned to Oakland on Saturday with lingering roster questions in tow.

While their rotation is essentially set, it remains to be seen how the A's will fill out their bullpen. They also haven't decided on a center fielder; and while Jake Smolinski appears to be the favored backup there, nothing has been made official.

Smolinski hit .289 with four homers and 13 RBIs in 45 at-bats this spring. His competition for the final bench job kept pace, though. Mark Canha was batting .302 with three home runs when the A's left town Saturday. Smolinski, however, remains the better defensive option in center field, which will play in his favor.

A bigger question remains, though: Will Dustin Fowler or Boog Powell be in center field on Opening Day? Earlier this week, Melvin said, "It might be our last decision."

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The A's anticipate having Fowler man the position for years to come, but they're still in debate about whether he's ready to do so now. Having him begin the regular season at Triple-A Nashville to get his bat going, rather than run the risk of a possible demotion should he struggle out of the gate in Oakland, is an option that's certainly being considered.

"You hate to see him get off to a bad start and then potentially have to send him down," Melvin said.

Fowler sustained a devastating knee injury during his big league debut with the Yankees last June and only returned to game action at the end of February for Cactus League play. The outfielder has looked better at the plate of late, bringing a .195 average back to the Bay. Powell is hitting .256.

Only one will be on the roster with Smolinski, who missed nearly all of the 2017 season after undergoing right shoulder surgery in Spring Training, as part of a platoon.

"He plays hard, and you really pull for a guy like that," Melvin said. "And he's had a great spring after being inactive after a whole year, which is tough to do. He came in here with the intent of making a team and playing well and he's done that. You get the versatility in the outfield with all positions, he hits left-handed pitching well, he's really had a nice spring for himself."

Video: OAK@LAA: Smolinski crushes leadoff homer in the 5th

Melvin and the A's plan to carry eight relievers into the season. Led by closer Blake Treinen, the bullpen also includes right-handers Chris Hatcher, Yusmeiro Petit, Emilio Pagan and Liam Hendriks along with left-handers Ryan Buchter and Danny Coulombe. The final spot is up for grabs.

Melvin would prefer to have a long reliever not named Petit at his disposal -- "I'd have a hard time pitching him in games when we're down. I think he's too valuable to us," he said -- but that would require the A's to cut ties with veteran Santiago Casilla, who is owed $5.5 million.

Should the A's prioritize length while operating with an unreliable rotation, either Frankie Montas or the out-of-options Raul Alcantara would make the team.

"Based on our starters and so forth and the potential of using our bullpen quite a bit," Melvin said, "we're going to have to identify that guy, and we haven't as of yet."

Up Next
The A's will return home to host the Giants at the Coliseum on Sunday for the first of a three-game exhibition Bay Bridge Series. Right-hander Daniel Gossett gets the start in the scheduled 1:05 p.m. PT contest, which can be watched live on MLB.TV.

Jane Lee has covered the A's for MLB.com since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB.

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