A’s ride the backs of Balfour, Cook, Doolittle

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For the A’s, it’s as easy as B, C, D

In sweeping the Rangers to win the AL West this week, the A’s had Grant Balfour, Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle pitch the final three innings of all three games. They didn’t go in that order — Balfour had the ninth, while the other two alternate in the seventh and eighth — but they are pretty much interchangable. They combined to allow three hits in nine scoreless innings between the three games.

It wasn’t just those three games either. Cook hasn’t allowed a run in 14 appearances. Balfour has gone 10 straight without giving up a run. Doolittle is the ugly duckling of the group, having allowed a run just last week.

But Doolittle is the best story. A supplemental first-round pick as a first baseman five years ago, he just made the move to the mound last year. He entered 2012 with a total of one inning of game experience, that coming in Rookie ball at the end of 2007. After quickly tearing through the minors, he arrived on June 5 and struck out three Rangers in 1 1/3 innings. Five days later, he struck out five Diamondbacks in two innings. He’ll now head into the postseason with a 60/11 K/BB ratio and a 3.04 ERA in 47 1/3 innings.

Cook was the lesser name the A’s picked up from the Diamondbacks along with Jarrod Parker in the Trevor Cahill deal. He got his first taste of the majors last year, giving up six runs in 7 2/3 innings. This year, he started off with 23 straight scoreless innings before finally giving up a run on May 28. He replaced the struggling Balfour in the closer’s role in June and was named Oakland’s lone All-Star a month later. At the end of July, he hit a rough patch of his own, blowing four saves in five opportunities. The A’s gave the closer’s role back to Balfour then, but Cook didn’t sulk. From Aug. 11 on, he allowed runs in just one of  his 23 appearances. He finished the season with a 2.09 ERA.

And then there’s the 35-year-old Balfour, the veteran of Oakland’s staff since Bartolo Colon was suspended. Unlike pretty much every other pitcher the A’s are relying on right now, Balfour has a history of success that extends beyond this year. That said, he was beset by arm problems throughout his 20s and never established himself as a major leaguer until he was 30. He entered this season with 10 career saves. Now he has 34. He finished with a 2.53 ERA in a career-high 74 2/3 innings.

For the A’s manage to go deep into the postseason, one imagines the trio of relievers will have to keep doing what they’re doing. There’s been no let up through some pretty strenuous workloads this far, and with the win today, at least they can all look forward to two days off before they’ll be needed again Saturday.

Reds ink Oliver Perez to a minor-league deal

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The Reds have signed free agent reliever Oliver Perez to a minor-league contract, the team announced Saturday. The deal comes with a major-league invite and could be worth $1.25 million if Perez secures a roster spot this spring, with an additional $500,000 in potential performance bonuses.

Perez, 36, is coming off of a two-year run with the Nationals. He produced a 4.64 ERA, 3.3 BB/9 an d10.6 SO/9 through 50 relief appearances and 33 innings with the club in 2017. The veteran lefty hasn’t kept an ERA under 4.00 in at least four seasons, but he continues to be undeniably solid against left-handed batters, holding them to a .227/.301/.364 batting line over 18 1/3 innings last year.

While returning southpaw Wandy Peralta appears to have locked down a bullpen spot already, Perez will still compete for another role against fellow left-handers Cody Reed and Amir Garrett, both of whom also have experience in the rotation. If Perez doesn’t break camp with the team, MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon notes, he’ll be permitted to opt out of his contract. The Reds are currently looking to bounce back from a dismal performance in 2017, one in which their bullpen ranked 28th among major league teams with a collective 5.63 ERA and -1.2 fWAR.