Spring Training Preview: Bullpen Battle Part 2

With Spring training under way and split squad games beginning, it is time to take a look at the last remaining spot to win on the A's opening day roster. With 11 available roster spots for pitchers, and 10 hurlers who are already a lock to make the roster; that leaves one remaining spot open. We will focus on six of the pitchers giving it their all to prove they have what it takes to work with one of the most elite pitching staffs in the major leagues.

When A's manager Ken Macha announced that the roster was virtually complete with the exception of one bull pen spot, speculation began to mount amongst A's fans, as to who might fill that last opening on the roster. In total, there are 11 spots for pitchers on the roster. Five of those spots are committed to the starting pitchers. (Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Barry Zito, Mark Redman, Rich Harden) Then there are the Set up men, (Chad Bradford, Ricardo Rincon,) and middle men (Chris Hammond, and a healthier Jim Mecir,) and of course the new closer (Arthur Rhodes.)

In the off season, after losing All Star Keith Foulke, Billy Beane decided to add depth to the A's bull pen. He traded for a solid middle man in Hammond, and picked up former set up man Arthur Rhodes via free agency to fill in as the closer. With the A's starting pitching being one of the best in baseball, the bull pen typically gets a lot of rest; which would explain the abundance of quality short relievers. However, one obvious hole in the bull pen is the lack of a decent long reliever/spot starter. Solving this concern, may provide a hint as to what the A's may be looking for in the pitchers vying for the position.

The Top Candidates.

Justin Duchscherer-RHP- Duchscherer who is currently 26 years old was picked up by The A's in March of 2002, in a trade for pitcher Luis Vizcaino. The man who the fans know as "The Duke" is coming off an incredible minor league season in which he was named the Pacific Coast Leagues Pitcher Of The Year. He won a PCL high 13 games, and his 3.28 ERA was ranked 6th in the league. He was also awarded with the privilege of being the starting pitcher for the PCL in the AAA All Star Game. After his great AAA season he was given a late call up to the A's roster, which led to possibly the best day of his whole career. He made his Oakland A's debut throwing a shut out, and then rushed immediately to the hospital to meet his new born baby, whom his wife had just given birth to the same day. Duchscherer has a decent chance to win the roster spot, since he has experiance as a starting pitcher. He would be good for the long relief role, and can occasionally start if necessary.

Chad Harville-RHP- Harville is a 27 year old relief pitcher who was originally drafted out of the University of Memphis in 1997. Harville has spent the last four seasons with the Sacramento River Cats where he was used both as a closer, and a reliever. Harville boasts an impressive fast ball which can hit the high 90's, and spent time in the off season developing a new change up to add to his repertoire. Harville was also a late season addition to the Oakland A's roster. With the A's he pitched in 21 games, and posted an ERA of 5.82, he won 1 game and lost none. Harville feels he has a good chance of making the roster because of how he performed in the big leagues last season. He also has a slight edge, because he would have to be placed on waivers by the A's, if he is not kept on the major league roster. Last time he was placed on waivers he cleared, and the A's retained him. However, he was injured at the time, and he wasn't picked up largely because most teams were not willing to take a risk on an injured player. If placed on waivers again, he would most likely be picked up by another team, after he showed that he can handle his own at the major league level.

Justin Lehr-RHP- Lehr was drafted in the 8th round of the first year players draft in 1999. He spent his 2003 season with the Sacramento River Cats where he posted an ERA of 3.27 and struck out 64 batters in the 74 innings that he pitched. His next stop was in the Dominican Republic for some winter ball. He joined up with Eric Byrnes and Miguel Tejada, amongst many other pro ball players playing for the Ponce Lions. He was utilized as a set up man before he was bumped up to the closer role. In the Caribbean league Lehr proceeded to dominate the opposition to the tune of a 1.11 ERA in 19 appearances, while posting eight saves as a closer. With his help the Lions went on to win the Caribbean League Championship. Lehr's arsenal includes four main pitches, including a split fingered fast ball, a sinking fast ball, a cutter, and a curve ball.

Mike Wood-RHP- Wood was drafted in the 10th round by the A's in 2001. He Became the first of his draft class to make it to the big league roster. Wood has spent three years as a professional ball player. He got called up to the Oakland A's roster on August 21st and made his first appearance in relief against the Boston Red Sox (who had the best offense in the MLB last year.) He gave up a 2 run single and then retired the next eight batters he faced. He made one start, and was also used in relief. He won 2 games and lost 1, while posting an ERA of 10.54. He pitched 13 innings for the A's and appeared in 7 games. Wood had a rate of 9.88 strike outs per 9 innings. While Wood was with the River Cats, he showed a great ability to prevent the long ball. In 91 innings he allowed just 5 home runs. He won 9 games and lost just 3. He posted a 3.05 ERA in 16 starts. Wood also is a starting pitcher and could be used in long relief.

Frank Brooks-LHP- Frank Brooks was picked up this year in the rule 5 draft, much like Mike Neu was last season. If he looks good in the spring the A's will probably trade him off to a team with room on the 25 man roster. As a term of the rule 5 draft, you have to keep the drafted player on your roster all season. When the A's kept Neu around last year, it limited the flexibility of the roster. Brooks pitched last year in the PCL. for the Nashville Sounds. He had an ERA of 2.54 with 2 wins and 1 loss. Brooks played in a total of 16 games in which he pitched 28 innings and struck out 22 batters. He is one of the only lefties competing for the open roster space, but the bull pen is already slightly lefty heavy as Rhodes, Hammond, and Rincon are all left handed.

John Rheinecker-LHP- Rheinecker was the third pick for the A's in the 2001 draft. Last year Rheinecker made the jump from single A ball to double A after an impressive string of nine games in which he had an ERA of 2.31 and 3 wins. In double A ball, he continued to build upon his success. Between single and double A he won 10 games and lost 7, but had the 2nd lowest ERA in the A's organization, and finished fourth in the organization in strike outs, with 162. His strike out to walk ratio was 4.8 to 1. Rheinecker is also a lefty and has impressed the A's front offices with his quick progress. Like most left handed starters, he is especially good against left handed hitters. However, that will only get him so far this year since the A's re-signed free agent lefty specialist Ricardo Rincon.

The Bottom Line: Obviously whoever performs the best during the spring will be favored to get the job. However since the bull pen already has three lefties they may be looking to fill the spot with a right handed pitcher. The absence of a long reliever leads me to believe they would want some one that can eat some innings if need be. But the bull pen Beane put together in the off season is filled with quality pitchers so it may mean that a long reliever is not a must. Based on past performance at the big league level, and seniority, do not be surprised if Duchscherer or Harville win the job, but a strong outing from any of these candidates could win the ultimate prize. Keep in mind Jim Mecir has a shaky history when it comes to his health so if he goes down we will see two of these pitchers on the big league roster as opposed to one. In the midst of all the speculation. The only sure thing regarding the open spot in the bull pen, is that these promising pitchers that are trying to become a fixture in the big leagues, will be giving it their all, and holding nothing back.

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