The Oakland Athletics offense struggled yesterday but once again strong pitching performances were key to the A's tenth inning victory. Dallas Braden continued the strong run by the A's starting rotation. The A's starters have given up seven runs over the last five games, which has been a key reason the A's are 4-1 over that stretch in spite of the offense only scoring eleven runs.
While the starters get plenty of credit, the A's bullpen has returned to its expected performance level the last six games and is starting to live up to expectations. The bullpen struggled immensely the first four games of the season going 0-3 with a 6.97 ERA over 10 1/3 innings pitched. In the five games before last night the A's bullpen had secured three saves with a 1.35 ERA over 6 2/3 innings. Last night the A's bullpen went four innings, giving up one hit, one walk and no runs, while securing the win and the save.
Tyson Ross was the key last night as he pitched three shutout innings with very little margin for error. He was followed by another lockdown inning from temporary closer Brian Fuentes. What's even more ridiculous is the fact that there is actually some room for improvement in the pen. The pitchers are faring well right now, but once Andrew Bailey gets back, the depth reaches fairly absurd levels. Brian Fuentes moves back to the set-up role he will share with Grant Balfour.
The question becomes what to do with the rest of the pen when Bailey and Michael Wuertz both come off the DL. If Tyson Ross continues to pitch well in relief, the team has to decide whether to return to stretching him out as a starter, or keep him in the A's bullpen. Part of that also depends on how Brandon McCarthy performs in the coming week or two. He's looked solid so far and would seem to be buying himself some breathing room.
Needless to say, this is all a good problem for the A's to have. One has to hope the offense gets going at some point, but until it does, having a strong bullpen to go with fantastic starting pitching buys the the offense some time to get on track.