OAKLAND -- The A’s learned first-hand what constructing a deep bullpen can do for a run to the postseason in 2018, and they look to be following a similar formula in the days leading up to the July 31 Trade Deadline.
Struggling to close out games at times this season, the A’s made a move looking to fortify the late innings with the addition of Royals reliever Jake Diekman on Saturday. Oakland traded Rookie League right-handed pitcher Ismael Aquino and Double-A outfielder Dairon Blanco in exchange for the left-hander.
The move marks the second time the A’s have pulled off a deal with Kansas City this month after acquiring starter Homer Bailey on July 16.
“We talked for a while about wanting to add to the bullpen,” A’s GM David Forst said. “Jake was someone we had engaged in the offseason as a free agent. The first thing that jumps out is the fastball velocity. He has pitched well against right-handers and is a good complement to what we have in the 'pen.”
An eight-year veteran who spent four seasons with the Rangers from 2015-18, Diekman is a familiar face to A’s hitters. Though his overall numbers haven’t been spectacular this year -- he’s 0-6 with a 4.75 ERA over 48 appearances -- A’s manager Bob Melvin has seen enough of the left-hander to know his addition will only bolster the bullpen.
“He’s a tough customer. He’s a guy that misses some bats,” Melvin said. “Watching left-handers around the league have to deal with him and talking to some of our guys, he’s certainly not a comfortable at-bat. He makes us a lot better.”
The A’s hope to get Diekman on a flight to Oakland in time for Sunday’s series finale against the Rangers, but the logistics of the move make Tuesday the more likely day for Diekman’s arrival, which is when the A’s begin a three-game series with the Brewers after Monday’s off-day. When he does arrive, Diekman’s hard fastball, which sits at around 97 mph, and ability to get both righties and lefties out make him a candidate to get work late in games. He has struck out 63 batters in 41 2/3 innings this year, which is ninth-most among American League relievers.
“It allows me to match up more with [Ryan] Buchter to maybe get a key left-hander out earlier in the game,” Melvin said. “You can run him through an inning and not worry about the matchup. He was sought after by quite a few teams, so we’re lucky to get him.”
The A’s enter Saturday night with a record of 58-47. Riding a three-game losing streak that moved them to a half game behind the Rays for the second American League Wild Card on Friday night, the A’s will continue to be active before the Deadline as they look to boost their chances of reaching the playoffs for a second consecutive season. In 2018, Jeurys Familia was the big move on the day of the Deadline that helped solidify a three-headed monster in the back end of the bullpen between him, Lou Trivino and Blake Treinen.
With Treinen and Trivino struggling to find their 2018 forms, and Oakland’s 19 blown saves the third-most by a bullpen in the Majors, adding another reliever remains a strong possibility. Starting pitching is also an area the A’s could look to improve, with starters posting an 8.69 ERA over the last six games. Whatever direction they go, that next move likely won't come until Wednesday's Deadline, which is when Forst expects other clubs on the fence about buying or selling to feel the pressure.
“We still have other conversations going on. I think most of us need to be faced with a deadline to make decisions,” Forst said. “That’s sort of the nature of the game now. I think there’s a chance Wednesday morning is a pretty exciting few hours.
“I have not put my phone away. We’ll continue to be busy. Getting something done takes two sides, so I can’t guarantee anything. But we’ll continue to try.”
Davis gets a break
Struggling to find any rhythm on a 28-game homerless streak that is now the longest of his career over a single season, Khris Davis was out of the starting lineup for Saturday’s game. The slugger went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts Friday night and is now 1-for-23 over his last six games.
But Davis is not the only hitter going through a rough patch. The A’s have scored just seven runs over their last 27 innings played, also going homerless over that stretch.
“He’s not the only guy struggling,” Melvin said of Davis. “Sometimes these things get contagious. It’s up to us to pick it up.”