OAKLAND -- The A's bullpen has been one of the team's few disappointments this season, leading all of MLB with 29 blown saves. However, manager Bob Melvin believes that group is now as strong as it's been all year.
It may not be the names we expected to see late in games -- last year's stars Blake Treinen and Lou Trivino have both struggled in 2019 -- but reinforcements have come from a variety of locations.
Hard-throwing youngsters Jesús Luzardo, A.J. Puk, and J.B. Wendelken have all been phenomenal this month, combining for a 1.40 ERA. They will continue to play a significant role in high-leverage situations.
"It is nice to have that depth," said A's manager Bob Melvin. "You know you have to make adjustments along the way over the course of 162 games. Rarely does it go like it did last year where every game (that we led) after the seventh inning we won, up until the last couple of weeks of the season. It was a little bit more of a challenge this year, but we seem to be as strong as ever at this point."
Oakland's bullpen has also been bolstered by the addition of starting pitcher Chris Bassitt. The right-hander volunteered to help out in the pen with Treinen out with a back injury.
In his first relief appearance Friday night, Bassitt pitched a dominant ninth inning, striking out two of the three batters he faced. His fastball consistently hit 97 mph as he didn't have to worry about saving his energy for multiple innings.
"It's definitely different, knowing that I don't have to save much," Bassitt told NBC Sports California. "It's fun. Every pitch is basically your best pitch."
Added Melvin: "If someone's not available, (Bassitt) can slip into that role. If we need him for length, he can slip into that. You get into an extra-inning game, he can give you multiple innings. So it's his versatility that we really value in the role that he has right now."
Oakland has also used Luzardo and Puk for multiple frames, with Luzardo pitching three innings in each of his first two appearances. Melvin will likely continue to use that "piggyback" strategy of following up one starter with another for up to nine outs.
"It's something we have in our back pocket," he said. "Some of what we've been doing recently, whether it's Luzardo or Puk and so forth, is been able to give our bullpen a rest. I think we're probably as rested as we've been all season."
Of course, All-Star closer Liam Hendriks and veteran right-hander Yusmeiro Petit will continue to play a significant role, as could Joakim Soria, who has looked sharp since returning from a nine-game absence. But as the A's head toward the postseason, they will continue to rely heavily on their youngsters.