A's bullpen dealing with the injury bug
Relievers Wuertz, Bailey, Breslow all have arm concerns
PHOENIX -- The injury plague that has taken residence in the A's clubhouse over the past few seasons is back in action again, this time reigning over the bullpen.
Oakland's relief corps seemingly represented the club's only sure thing heading into camp, but several recent setbacks to players who significantly contributed to the 2009 season have left the makeup of the 2010 Opening Day roster not so certain.
Right-hander Michael Wuertz, one of the league's top setup men last season, was scratched Sunday morning due to the same shoulder soreness that delayed his spring debut for a couple of weeks.
The reliever will see Dr. Doug Freedberg on Monday, and much of his season status will depend on the results of that visit. When questioned if Wuertz's readiness for Opening Day is at an iffy stage, manager Bob Geren replied, "It's fair to say that."
Almost equally questionable is Andrew Bailey, who set an Oakland rookie record with 26 saves last year en route to being named American league Rookie of the Year. The right-hander, along with lefty Craig Breslow (elbow), will appear in a game Monday for the first time since March 14.
Bailey was diagnosed with tennis elbow after just four spring appearances, in which he compiled a perfect ERA. Depending on how he responds to Monday's outing against the visiting Mariners, Bailey could potentially get two more exhibition appearances and be just fine for the season.
"If everything goes right, he'll get a total of seven outings," Geren said. "He wouldn't be behind if everything went perfectly."
Meanwhile, Breslow appears set to resume his role as the staff's top lefty option in the bullpen if his Monday performance signals a green light as well. Still, all the "ifs" are cause for concern for an A's club that heavily depended on a bullpen that finished with the league's best ERA last year.
"That was a huge strength for us," Geren said. "I'm optimistic about everybody, but we won't know more until tomorrow."
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Unfortunately, the club does know that right-hander Joey Devine won't start the season in Oakland. The reliever, who underwent Tommy John surgery last April, said Sunday he'll take part in extended Spring Training for two to three weeks before throwing in a Minor League assignment.
Devine's throwing program was halted for a couple weeks when he experienced tendinitis in his throwing arm, but he plans on playing catch Monday, tossing a bullpen Tuesday and hopefully throwing to hitters Wednesday or Thursday.
With much of the A's relief corps offering little certainty heading into the season, the club will look to some of the more recent pickups to aide in the bullpen recovery process.
Spring acquisition Jason Jennings, who could give the A's long-relief options, along with Edwar Ramirez, recently acquired for infielder Gregorio Petit, now have a decent chance at making the club. The same can be said of left-handers Jerry Blevins and Brad Kilby, both of whom appeared on the roster bubble before injuries surfaced left and right.
If need be, hard-throwing righty Henry Rodriguez is also available. However, Geren doesn't seem fully confident that Rodriguez is big league ready. The 23-year-old Rodriguez made his Oakland debut last September and posted a 2.25 ERA in three games, but his spring performances haven't boasted the consistency for which the club's looking.
"Anybody that can throw 100 [mph], you can say he's close to being ready," the A's skipper said. "He has to be more consistent with his command, though. He's shown flashes of greatness but also flashes of command issues."
Geren plans on carrying seven bullpen pitchers, of which only one currently appears to be a 100 percent guarantee for Opening Day. Brad Ziegler, who has a 2.17 ERA and 18 saves in 116 relief appearances in two seasons with the A's, has quietly put together an impressive spring and appears to be the club's best setup option at the moment.
"He's really been improving his game," Geren said. "He's a guy that always wants to be in the game and someone we can count on for any role down there."
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.