How A’s J.B. Wendelken Has Earned Bob Melvin’s Trust in Big Situations

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Ben Ross

OAKLAND -- The A's have been searching for a reliable eighth-inning relief option for essentially the entire season. They might have found one potential answer in 26-year-old J.B. Wendelken.

The hard-throwing right-hander was terrific last season, allowing just one run in 16 2/3 innings, with 14 strikeouts. But after a slow start in 2019, Wendelken was optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas, where he has spent most of this year.

Since returning to the A's earlier this month, Wendelken has pitched five perfect innings. That's right -- 15 up, 15 down.

"I've been feeling really good," Wendelken told NBC Sports California. "It's a little bit of an adjustment period, but that's the way it always is. I'm just coming in and giving the guys a chance to get ahead. That's all you can do out of the pen."

It appears Wendelken has already earned his manager's trust. On multiple occasions, Bob Melvin has utilized the young right-hander in late-inning, high-leverage situations.

"We've always felt like he was a guy that we could count on," Melvin said. "It's nice to have him here and he's pitched really well for us, so hopefully, he can gain some confidence from that."

"It's super exciting. It's one of those things where they put your faith in you and you have to step up," Wendelken said. "It's an adrenaline rush, but at the same time, it could be overwhelming. We all have a job to do. All we can do is go in there and be hard-nosed."

Throughout his career, Wendelken has relied on his mid-to-high 90s fastball, only occasionally mixing in a changeup and curveball. But during his time in Triple-A, he began developing a slider. 

"It's come a long way," Wendelken said. "It took a while to even get a swing and a miss. That was the big thing. We kind of laughed about it. In two months there (in Las Vegas), I didn't even get one swing and miss on it. I'm finally getting a little turnaround on it, so it's good to see some movement and some swings and misses."

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As the A's make their final playoff push, they will continue to rely on Wendelken in the late innings. If he can maintain his effectiveness, it will go a long way toward putting Oakland over the top.

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