OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Manager Bob Melvin has been forced to recall all those demoralizing one-run losses by the Oakland Athletics last season, yet now he is able to envision far more favorable scenarios for 2016.
He believes his club is far better equipped to take close games in the late innings thanks to a revamped bullpen featuring depth and experience.
Oakland went a dismal 19-35 in one-run games, leading the majors in one-run defeats.
John Axford, Ryan Madson, Marc Rzepczynski and Liam Hendriks will give Melvin options leading to a healthy Sean Doolittle to close in the ninth inning.
Oakland’s relievers owned the worst ERA in the American League last season at 4.63 and third-highest in baseball.
Ace Sonny Gray is likely to be followed in the rotation by new lefty Rich Hill, signed to a $6 million, one-year contract.
“I think we like where we are in the depth that we have,” Melvin said. “We feel like if all these guys are healthy, not only do we have a rotation that we feel is going to be productive, but we also have some depth.”
The A’s finished 68-94 in 2015 for last place in the AL West, missing the playoffs after three straight berths.
Here are some things to watch for heading into A’s spring training this month at Mesa, Arizona:
BUTLER BOUNCE BACK?: Designated hitter Billy Butler tends to hit better in the season’s second half, yet in 2015 he couldn’t make up for his lack of production out of the gates to get fully on track in his first season with the A’s.
It didn’t help he was hampered by wrist injuries early in spring training that limited his swing.
Butler batted a career-worst .251 with 15 homers and 65 RBIs.
“I had minor issues last year when camp started, I couldn’t swing right away,” he said. “My progress is a lot better than it was last year. I’m 100 percent with everything on that now.”
THE CRISP FACTOR: The A’s don’t know yet whether Coco Crisp can be their everyday left fielder. He played only 44 games last season — fewest since his rookie season of 2002 with Cleveland — because of injuries that included a lingering neck problem that kept him from being his usual catalyst at the top of the order.
“He’s worked hard this spring, and I know he started hitting a lot sooner than he did in years past, just to come in feeling like he’s healthy,” Melvin said. “It’s going to be all about how it works when he plays.”
ABLE INFIELD: Oakland brought back Jed Lowrie, who will join shortstop Marcus Semien and third baseman Valencia, who is eager for a full season to settle in with the A’s following his August trade from Toronto. Add Eric Sogard to the mix and Melvin can get creative.
DOOLITTLE’S HEALTH: Doolittle is ready for a full season after a strain in his left shoulder derailed his year.
The 29-year-old lefty was limited to 12 outings and 13 2-3 innings in 2015, going 1-0 with a 3.95 ERA and four saves.
“I’m ready to go, excited to get into spring training with no restrictions, feeling good,” he said.
VOGT RECOVERS: Catcher Stephen Vogt had looked forward to working with all the new relievers early in spring training, but now he will have to push back that timeline.
Vogt had arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow Jan. 29 and is expected to be healthy by opening day.
A first-time All-Star last season, Vogt hit. 261 with 18 home runs and 71 RBIs in 136 games.
OFFENSE: Oakland ranked 18th in baseball for hitting, but now has Valencia from Day 1. He batted a combined .290 between the Blue Jays and A’s with 18 home runs and 66 RBIs.
“Offensively we’re going to have some great parts,” Melvin said. “We like our team as we sit here right now.”