PHOENIX -- The A's appeared close to envisioning a season without their two-time All-Star closer, but those thoughts quickly dissolved Tuesday when the team announced that Andrew Bailey has been diagnosed with a right forearm strain, thus putting to rest any fears of structural damage or a need for surgery.
Bailey, who exited Monday's contest against the Indians in the seventh inning with discomfort in his right elbow and forearm, traveled to Birmingham, Ala., on Tuesday to pay a visit to James Andrews. The orthopedic surgeon assured Bailey that he "experienced no swelling" and can resume throwing when pain-free, according to a team statement.
A's general manager Billy Beane, who addressed the issue in the release, said there is currently no timetable for Bailey's return. However, it's unlikely he'll be ready by season's start given that Opening Day is less than three weeks away.
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"After yesterday," manager Bob Geren agreed, "that's about as good of news as you can expect."
That was the general consensus around A's camp on Tuesday, as everyone was aware of Bailey's injury history, which includes a 2005 Tommy John procedure. The 26-year-old righty was brought along slowly this spring after undergoing cleanup surgery, administered by Andrews, on his previously repaired right elbow two weeks before the end of the 2010 campaign.
"That's the best news I've heard all day," catcher Kurt Suzuki said upon learning of his teammate's diagnosis. "You think about the loss of a guy like Bailey and what it possibly could have been, that's huge. He's such a big part of this team, so it's great to know it's not serious."
Monday merely marked Bailey's second spring outing, and his absence throughout the rest of camp and presumably for much of the start of the season means the A's will heavily be relying on a couple of their offseason acquisitions, namely four-time All-Star Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour.
Fuentes, who has yet to allow a run in five spring outings, is the likely choice for the closer's role. He led the Majors with 48 saves for the Angels in 2009 and limited opponents to a .181 batting average -- fifth-lowest among American League relievers -- in 2010 while finishing 4-1 with a 2.81 ERA and 24 saves for the Angels and Twins.
However, the A's are likely to take a closer-by-committee approach and base the role on matchups and performance rather than naming one man for the job while Bailey is out of commission. Along with Balfour, righties Michael Wuertz and Brad Ziegler, as well as lefty Craig Breslow, can all close. Righty Joey Devine, if healthy, can also get the job done.
Wuertz made his Cactus League debut on Tuesday and displayed strong form and health, which added to the good news surrounding Bailey, who has put together a 1.70 ERA with 51 saves over the past two seasons.
Oakland's ability to move forward with a strong bullpen still intact speaks to the club's offseason efforts in stocking up on depth following a 2010 season that saw the A's use the disabled list 23 times.
"Obviously, it's going to be a big factor to stay healthy and keep doing what I do," Wuertz said. "That's why we got the guys we got. We got a deep bullpen for a reason, and I think you're going to see that play out."
Bailey relayed through a text message Tuesday afternoon that he would be returning to Phoenix immediately but preferred to address the media on Thursday -- the A's have an off-day Wednesday -- after speaking with the team's coaches and medical staff.