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Back end of A's bullpen is loaded

Back end of A's bullpen is loaded play video for Back end of A's bullpen is loaded

PHOENIX -- Don't be surprised if Bob Melvin is picking names out of his hat when the later innings roll around this year.

Not that he actually would. But he could. The A's manager has that many setup options -- four, to be exact -- ahead of new closer Jim Johnson in what should be one of baseball's best bullpens.

When asked on Monday at A's Spring Training who he sees as true setup guys, Melvin pointed to lefty Sean Doolittle and right-handers Ryan Cook, Luke Gregerson and Dan Otero. This group could even grow to five come July, when lefty specialist Eric O'Flaherty is due to come off the disabled list.

"It's a nice problem to have, with the quality and the depth," said Melvin. "We'll figure it out once we leave here, and then guys will know for the most part who is supposed to get up at certain times."

Doolittle and Cook served the A's well in this role last year, while Gregerson has been one of the best eighth-inning specialists in the National League. Otero, a waiver claim by the A's late last spring, simply pushed his way into the mix with an impressive 2013.

In 33 games for the A's, spanning 39 innings, the right-hander allowed just six earned runs and struck out 27 to six walks.

"He definitely deserves to be in there, based on what he accomplished last year," said Melvin. "We will have, for the most part, defined roles, but those change, too. And with workloads, it allows me to use a guy like him in a setup role if Cook or Doolittle or Gregerson isn't available on a particular day. I don't know exactly how it will play out yet, but I know there will be times he's in a setup role."

These interchangeable pieces are a luxury for any manager to have, but it goes beyond that, with this kind of flexibility allowing the A's to spread out the workload and prevent late-season fatigue. Moreover, Johnson won't often be needed for more than an inning.

"With our setup guys, hopefully very rarely we're in a situation where we're using him one-plus, which means he starts an inning," said Melvin. "But even if you do, usually closers have that one pitch, and he's got the sinker ball, and he can keep it on the ground. He can get two outs out of that, so you don't just have to be a strikeout pitcher, and he's shown that over the last couple of years."

Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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