On Saturday afternoon, just a day after saying he would “monitor” the closer situation, manager Bob Melvin called on Sean Doolittle not Grant Balfour to lock down the ninth inning.
The manager was resting his usual closer simply because Balfour had thrown 35 pitches on Friday night. Although before that outing he hadn’t thrown in three days. On Sunday, before the Oakland A’s 2-1 win over the Houston Astros, Melvin confirmed that Balfour was absolutely still the unquestioned closer.
“I mean, he’s got two blown saves. How many big league closers can say that?”
The 35-year-old right-hander has allowed runs in four of his last six outings, and while he he managed to secure four of five saves in the process, Balfour has not looked like the same pitcher who reeled off 44 straight saves. There’s a difference between Balfour making things interesting, and simply not looking good. For the Australian closer as of late, it’s been far closer to the latter.
“Granted his stuff may not have been as crisp as we’ve seen earlier in the year, but there are going to be periods of time where guys struggle a bit. It’s more magnified when it is the closer because he’s the last line of defense, but everyone’s going to go through periods where they struggle some during the course of the season.”
The string of shaky performances by Balfour is reminiscent of the intermittent struggles endured by Doolittle earlier in the season.
“You have to stay confident with those guys, and sometimes you have to let them fail.”
Melvin then warned of the dangers of pulling a late-inning reliever from his role too soon: “If you’re too quick to do that, then it shows them that you don’t have confidence.”
Fortunately for Balfour, Melvin is supremely confident in his pitching staff. That confidence translates to patience, and Melvin has clearly demonstrated that he knows when to pull a struggling pitcher, whether he’s a starter or even a closer.
“There are 162 baseball games and you’re not going to be perfect.”
For more than a week, Balfour has been far from it. On countless occasions this season, the skipper has sent out a younger starter for one more inning than seems necessary. The thing is, it almost always ends up working out. The A’s will hope that Melvin’s patience with Balfour pays off as well.