A's Hoping A.J. Puk, Jake Diekman Can Steady Bullpen in Playoff Push

OAKLAND -- The A's bullpen has surprisingly been a liability all season long.

After blowing just 18 saves last year, tied for fifth-fewest in MLB, Oakland has already blown 22 saves this season, tied for third-most in the league. The bullpen's ERA is much worse too, up from 3.37 in 2018 to 4.12 this year.

So what's caused the drop in performance? Well, in short, Blake Treinen and Lou Trivino haven't looked like anything close to last year's versions. Treinen emerged as an All-Star closer in 2018, finishing the year with a 0.78 ERA. This season, his ERA has ballooned to 4.86.

Meanwhile, Trivino has suffered a serious sophomore slump with a 5.14 ERA in 50 appearances. That follows a tremendous rookie season in 2018 which saw him go 8-3 with a 2.92 ERA.

The A's added veteran reliever Joakim Soria in the offseason, signing him to a two-year, $15 million deal. But Soria has stumbled to the worst season of his career, going 1-4 with a 4.97 ERA.

Fortunately, the A's pen has the potential to improve for the stretch run. Oakland has already added hard-throwing left-hander Jake Diekman from the Royals. The 32-year-old picked up his first win of the season in Thursday's victory over the Astros. 

Perhaps even more significant, A's No. 2 prospect A.J. Puk appears to be nearing a call-up. Puk, 24, is coming off Tommy John surgery but has had no setbacks to this point and could be an extremely valuable late-inning option in Oakland.

"It seems like maybe he's kind of hitting his stride (in Las Vegas)," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "If he continues to pitch in the fashion that he is, there's a good chance you're going to see him here sooner than later."

Of course, the two bright spots in the A's bullpen this season have been right-handers Liam Hendriks and Yusmeiro Petit. Hendriks, 30, has emerged as a dominant closer, going 4-1 with 14 saves and a 1.54 ERA, along with 88 strikeouts in just 64 1/3 innings.

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Petit, 34, has been nearly as valuable, going 3-2 with a 2.60 ERA in a team-high 61 appearances. The veteran can pitch in just about any situation, for any amount of batters.

If the A's can find even one or two more reliable options, the pen will be in much better shape heading into September. Perhaps Puk and Diekman can make that happen.

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