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Casilla hopes to close as A's still mull options

Ex-Giants stopper brings 'good memories' into Bay Bridge Series opener
March 30, 2017

SAN FRANCISCO -- When A's reliever Santiago Casilla walked into AT&T Park on Thursday afternoon, he was joined by Giants first baseman Brandon Belt, his teammate of the past six seasons. But instead of walking with Belt to the home clubhouse, Casilla broke the other direction toward the visitor's side.The

SAN FRANCISCO -- When A's reliever Santiago Casilla walked into AT&T Park on Thursday afternoon, he was joined by Giants first baseman Brandon Belt, his teammate of the past six seasons. But instead of walking with Belt to the home clubhouse, Casilla broke the other direction toward the visitor's side.
The former Giants closer is back in the Bay, but he's got the green and gold threads of the A's on.
"I have a lot of good memories here," Casilla said, sitting in the A's dugout while he watched the Giants take batting practice. "It's a little hard [to return] because I have known those guys for seven years, we played together, we stayed together and we won the World Series three times here. ... It's like family here."
Casilla won three rings and racked up 123 saves during his time with the Giants, including 69 with a 3.18 ERA and 127 strikeouts in 116 innings over the last two seasons. But with his new team -- with which he broke into the Majors and spent parts of six seasons before signing with the Giants -- Casilla's role is a bit unclear.
Oakland's roster features a bevy of veterans with closing experience -- namely Ryan Madson, Sean Doolittle and John Axford -- but none has been singled out as the closer. A's manager Bob Melvin was pressed about the ninth-inning situation heading into the final exhibition series of Spring Training, but remained non-committal.
"We'd like to kind of narrow it down to 'X' here and 'X' there," Melvin said, "and not just be this big bullpen committee thing where once you get into the game no one knows when the phone rings who's getting up. Will it be one guy to particularly close? Maybe not. ... We still haven't made up our mind as far as that dynamic goes."
Casilla's final Cactus League appearance lasted just one-third of an inning Wednesday, as he was named an emergency starter after scheduled starter Kendall Graveman fell ill. The 36-year-old righty gave up five runs on two hits (both homers) and two walks, inflating his spring ERA to 16.20. In his five previous Cactus League outings (4 2/3 innings), Casilla gave up four runs (7.71 ERA) with three walks and three strikeouts.
Casilla said he's ready to pitch in whatever role Melvin presents him, but added that he wants to close games out.
"I like to be in the game. I don't say, 'Oh, it has to be in the ninth' or whatever," Casilla said. "But I love pitching in the ninth, because the feeling is a bit different. This, I like. The emotion, the people start crying because they want you to get a strikeout."
Worth noting
• Outfielder Khris Davis (quad) and third baseman Trevor Plouffe (abductor muscle) were held out of the lineup again Thursday but Melvin said he's optimistic they'll both play Friday.
• Starter Sonny Gray (lat) stretched out to 120-foot long toss Thursday but Melvin said it's still premature to speculate on his return to the rotation.

Alex Espinoza is a contributor to MLB.com and covered the A's on Thursday.