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A's bullpen promises bright future

A's bullpen promises bright future

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OAKLAND -- The A's will have plenty of question marks heading into Spring Training 2010, but there won't be much uncertainty surrounding the constitution of their bullpen.

Heading into this week's series against the Rangers -- the second of three games is scheduled for Tuesday -- Oakland's relievers were sporting an American League-best 3.57 ERA, and every key member of the unit is expected back next season.

Even better for the cost-conscious club: They'll return on the cheap.

All-Star closer Andrew Bailey, right-hander Brad Ziegler and left-hander Craig Breslow aren't yet eligible for arbitration, and top setup man Michael Wuertz is a year from free agency.

Wuertz, 6-1 with a 2.80 ERA and 95 strikeouts against 22 walks in 74 innings over 70 appearances this year, figures to be the most expensive reliever next season, but he won't exactly break the bank. He'll get a nice raise over the reported $1.1 million he's making this year, but nothing that'll make ownership choke on its wallet.

Better still: The A's are anticipating the return of projected 2009 closer Joey Devine, who suffered an elbow injury this spring and underwent Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery, ending his season before it started.

Devine won't be making much more than the Major League minimum in 2010, but he is expected to provide some bang for the bucks. His recovery is ahead of schedule, and he's planning to be ready for the start of camp in February.

"It's exciting," Devine said during a recent visit to the clubhouse. "I'm already on my throwing program, and I feel great. It's just awesome to be throwing a baseball again, and watching the way the bullpen's done this year, it gets you even more excited to be a part of it next year."

In its 12 games prior to Monday, when the Rangers snapped Oakland's seven-game winning streak, the A's bullpen compiled a 1.68 ERA, allowing nine runs in 48 1/3 innings.

Bailey, Wuertz, Breslow and Ziegler have handled most of the high-pressure innings, but prospects Jeff Gray, Jerry Blevins and Brad Kilby have been impressive of late, too.

Gray, a righty, posted a 1.86 ERA in his first 16 appearances after being called up from Triple-A Sacramento on Aug. 6. Lefties Blevins and Kilby were called up Sept. 1; Blevins had a 2.70 ERA in nine outings through Sunday, while Kilby hasn't allowed a run in seven games, including Monday's 2 2/3-inning stint.

"It seems like we talk about it every day, and we really should," A's manager Bob Geren said of the bullpen's excellence. "That's how good it's been."

Bailey, an American League Rookie of the Year candidate, thinks it will be even better next season.

"We've got a lot of guys who have shown what they can do this year," he said. "And the great thing is that everyone's improving as the season goes on. It's a lot of fun to be a part of."

Pitching matchup
OAK: RHP Trevor Cahill (9-12, 4.54 ERA)
Cahill is riding a three-game winning streak, and has a six-game unbeaten stretch. He's lowered his ERA from 5.13 to its current level over the course of the past eight games. He gave up one hit over seven shutout innings and recorded a career-high seven strikeouts in his last start, a 4-0 victory over the Rangers in Texas. He'll be making his fourth start against the Rangers, against whom he is 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA and an opponents' batting average of .192.

TEX: RHP Brandon McCarthy (7-3, 4.97 ERA)
McCarthy is coming off a 6-1 loss to the Athletics on Tuesday in which he allowed four runs in three-plus innings. He is now 2-1 with a 5.17 ERA in three starts since returning at the beginning of September after missing three months with a stress fracture in his right shoulder blade. He is 3-2 with a 6.10 ERA in seven starts on the road, where opponents are hitting .302 off him as opposed to .199 on the road. He is 1-4 with an 8.27 ERA in his career against the A's, his highest ERA against any opponent.

Dribblers ...
First baseman Daric Barton suffered a minor heel injury while trying to score from first base on a double in the sixth inning Sunday and did not play on Monday. He could return as early as Tuesday. Barton is 9-for-24 (.375) over his past eight games. ... Bailey has converted his past 20 save opportunities, an on-going Oakland rookie record. ... When John Meloan made his big league debut out of the bullpen Sunday, he became the 49th player to appear for the A's this season. The club record is 54, in 2007, and 51 players appeared last season. ... LPGA star Natalie Gulbis threw out the ceremonial first pitch and split the fairway.

Tickets
 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• CSNCA-HD

On radio
• KTRB 860, KDIA 1640 (Español)

Up next
• Wednesday: Athletics (Clay Mortensen, 2-2, 6.12) vs. Rangers (Tommy Hunter, 8-4, 3.25), 7:05 p.m. PT
• Thursday: Athletics (Brett Anderson, 10-10, 4.21) vs. Rangers (Scott Feldman, 17-5, 3.62), 12:35 p.m. PT
• Friday: Athletics (Gio Gonzalez, 5-6, 6.15) at Angels (Jered Weaver, 15-7, 3.87), 7:05 p.m. PT

Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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