PEORIA, Ariz. - The bullpen puzzle for the A's seemed a rather simple one coming into spring training.
They appeared to have one spot open, with that job likely going to a second left-hander to join Sean Doolittle. Complicating things is that Daniel Coulombe and Ross Detwiler, the two lefty relief candidates still in camp, have posted identical 9.39 ERAs and have struggled to consistently get left-handed batters out.
Now the options seem wide open for manager Bob Melvin and the front office, with numerous variables. Do they go with just four outfielders? If so, there could be two spots open in an expanded eight-man bullpen. That could allow them to keep not only a lefty but perhaps Raul Alcantara, who is out of minor league options. Alcantara remains a starting rotation option as well.
Do they go with a more conventional seven-man bullpen and keep just one left-hander?
"It's nice to have a second lefty, yeah," Melvin said before an 8-5 win to the Mariners. "But if you look at the guys we have in our bullpen, there aren't too many two-inning guys, guys that can throw more than one inning for you. So that factors in as well."
Given that, Frankie Montas remains very much in the running for a bullpen spot too. The A's want to give the hard-throwing right-hander a look as a starter. But coming off an injury-ravaged 2016 season in which he pitched very little, Montas will be on an innings limit, meaning a relief role in which he could be a multi-inning guy might make more sense than starting him right away.
"I wouldn't count him out," Melvin said.
What we know: John Axford, Santiago Casilla, Sean Doolittle, Ryan Dull, Liam Hendriks and Ryan Madson will occupy six relief spots. The rest of the puzzle won't likely fall into place until the Bay Bridge Series wraps and the A's make their final cuts to the 25-man roster.
NOTEWORTHY: Speaking of the A's top relief arms, Melvin said he's formulating his thoughts on roles for his late-inning guys but hasn't talked to any of them individually yet. Regardless, he's holding to the idea that multiple relievers could be asked to close, depending on availability and matchups.
"Even when I do have that conversation with them before we start the season, I don't know if it will be an exact science," Melvin said.
HEALTH UPDATE: Chris Bassitt was scheduled for a 30-pitch bullpen session Tuesday, mixing in all of his pitches for the first time since having Tommy John surgery.
"He was pretty fired up about that," Melvin said.
COTTON STRUGGLES: Jharel Cotton endured his first poor start of the spring Tuesday night in Peoria, walking five and lasting just 3 2/3 innings. Previously, Cotton had issued just four walks total over three starts. The A's batted around in a six-run third, but Seattle struck for four runs in the fourth, all charged to Cotton to make it a 6-5 game. "We scored the runs and I was supposed to get back out there and put a zero up," Cotton said. "The command wasn't there as much. There's stuff I've got to work on in my sides and get back out there next time."
ODDS AND ENDS: Yonder Alonso, Trevor Plouffe and Bruce Maxwell all had two hits and two RBI apiece … Robinson Cano had an RBI double off Cotton in the third, but Cotton stranded him at third base by striking out Nelson Cruz on a changeup.