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.

Steven Matz to skip next spring training start with elbow issues

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Mets’ left-hander Steven Matz will miss his Grapefruit League appearance on Monday after experiencing soreness in his left elbow, according to a report by Mike Puma of the New York Post. Matz reportedly first felt discomfort in his elbow on Wednesday after pitching four innings against the Marlins, but a medical evaluation revealed no structural damage.

Still, it’s unsettling news for the 25-year-old, who is coming off of an injury-riddled 2016 season. Matz pitched to a 3.40 ERA, 2.1 BB/9 and 8.8 SO/9 during his sophomore campaign with the Mets, but his success was hampered by a bevy of shoulder and elbow issues that culminated in season-ending surgery to remove bone spurs from his left elbow.

Comments from Mets’ GM Sandy Alderson indicated that while the club doesn’t believe anything is significantly wrong with Matz’s elbow this time around, the setback could have an impact on his chances of cracking the Opening Day roster. Until he’s cleared to return to the mound, the club is expected to take a longer look at rotation candidates Robert Gsellman, Zack Wheeler and Seth Lugo.

Video: Andrew Toles hammers grand slam in Cactus League win

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Dodgers’ left fielder Andrew Toles crushed his first spring training home run on Saturday afternoon. With the bases loaded and a two-run deficit hanging over their heads in the fourth inning, Toles stepped up to the plate against Oakland right-hander Jesse Hahn and unloaded a grand slam on the second pitch he saw.

Third baseman Justin Turner was quick to follow up with a solo jack of his own, bringing the score to a comfortable 7-4 lead by the end of the fourth. Another three-run outburst in the fifth and an eighth-inning RBI single by Austin Barnes raised the final score to 11-6… which, coincidentally, was the same score the Reds used to defeat the Athletics’ second split-squad lineup on Saturday (albeit with a few more RBI walks than grand slams).

Toles, 24, is approaching his sophomore season with the Dodgers in 2017. He slashed .314/.365/.505 with three home runs and an .870 OPS in his first major league season in 2016 and is expected to platoon with the right-handed Franklin Gutierrez in left field this year.