ST. PETERSBURG — The A’s are done playing musical chairs in the ninth inning.
Having toyed, sometimes unsuccessfully, with a closer-by-committee approach following Jim Johnson’s demotion from the role just 11 days into the season, the A’s appear ready to anoint Sean Doolittle as their new guy.
Manager Bob Melvin didn’t say so directly after Doolittle locked down the save in Tuesday’s 3-0 shutout in Tampa, but he sure suggested it, relaying as close to an official announcement as he has all year.
“The way things are setting up,” Melvin said, “there’s a good chance he will be in the closing role.”
To which Doolittle responded, “It’s pretty cool, I guess.”
“He’s done a good job of communicating with us as far as what our roles are all season long, so it’s not exactly a surprise when the phone rings,” the lefty continued. “We know what’s going on. I’ve said to him a number of times, whenever you need me to pitch, I’ll pitch. Whether you need me for two outs in the sixth or in the ninth, I’m ready to go.”
Doolittle’s promotion comes just four weeks after the A’s rewarded him with a five-year deal on the premise that, one day, he would be their closer. No one expected it to happen this soon, though, given the club’s decision to reel in Johnson via trade in the offseason and pay him $10 million in arbitration salary.
Johnson’s role is anything but defined at the moment. He’s allowed seven runs, all earned, over his last six outings following a 10 1/3-inning scoreless streak and has a 7.00 ERA in 19 appearances, compared to Doolittle’s 3.27 mark in 21 outings.
Doolittle issued his first walk since Aug. 31, 2013 with two outs in the ninth inning Tuesday. His strikeout total, meanwhile, stands at 30 over 22 innings — including 19 against right-handers.
Lefty closers form an exclusive class, but Doolittle has always felt “like I’ve been able to get righties out just as well as lefties. That’s something I take a lot of pride in, being able to get guys out on both sides of the plate.”
The A’s are now showing confidence in his ability to do it in the ninth inning.
“I’ve gotten to do it very sporadically over the last couple of years and a little bit this year, and it is a little bit different out there when you’re trying to nail down the last three outs of the game in a tight ball game,” he said. “But the more I’ve done it, the more and more I’ve been able to control that adrenaline and use it to my advantage and feed off it, and I’m starting to feel more comfortable in that spot.”
The A’s have acquired Kyle Blanks from the Padres in exchange for Minor League outfielder Jake Goebbert and a player to be named later.
Blanks, a right handed-hitting first baseman/outfielder, will join the A’s in Cleveland on Friday and take the roster spot of Daric Barton, who has been designated for assignment.
With Barton out of the mix, after hitting just .158 in 30 games, Blanks will presumably form a platoon with Brandon Moss at first base.
The A’s have 10 days to trade, release or, like has happened multiple times before with him, pass Barton through waivers. He can decline a Minor League assignment but has opted to remain with the organization before.
The 6-foot-6 Blanks was 2-for-10 with the Padres. He was promoted from Triple-A in early May after hitting nine homers but optioned again this week to make room for Carlos Quentin.
Blanks, 27, was a 42nd-round pick in 2004 out of Yavapai College in Arizona. But he wasn’t exactly a sleeper, as this was during the old Draft-and-follow days, which allowed a team to hold the exclusive rights to a player up until one week before the Draft the following year.
He made his big league debut at the age of 22, against the A’s on June 19, 2009. He got his first hit the following day. Blanks was a first baseman that was asked to play the outfield by the organization, and took to it far better than many thought.
In July 2009, a swarm of bees in left field at Petco Park – near where Blanks was playing – caused a 53-minute delay against the Astros. A month later, Blanks delighted the home crowd by chugging around the bases for an inside the park home run against the Cubs.
Heck, Blanks, not even with a year of service time, even had his own Bobble Head night at Petco Park in 2010.
But Blanks couldn’t kick the injury bug with the Padres.
He had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in 2010. He later had season-ending surgery on his left shoulder in April of 2012. He also had issues with a strained arch in his right foot and, last season, left Achilles tendinitis.
The most at-bats he had in the big leagues in a single season was in 2013, when he hit .243 with eight home runs and 35 RBIs in 308 plate appearances.
Goebbert, meanwhile, was hitting .257 with six homers and 25 RBIs in 31 games for Triple-A Sacramento.