OAKLAND -- As advantageous as a healthy Brett Anderson proved to be as a starter in the playoffs last year, the A's believe the lefty's availability out of the bullpen for this year's postseason rematch with the Tigers is equally valuable.
The A's initially hoped Anderson, who was sidelined for four months by a stress fracture in his right foot, could be stretched out as a starter upon his late August return. That never happened, though.
Luckily, the 25-year-old was just as open to the idea of remaining in the bullpen through year's end as his employers were despite having been a starter throughout his entire career. So that's where Oakland's Opening Day starter will be, with a pair of rookies in Sonny Gray (Game 2 of the best-of-five American League Division Series) and Dan Straily (Game 4, if necessary) instead getting starting nods alongside Bartolo Colon and Jarrod Parker.
"I wouldn't say it was a hard sell," manager Bob Melvin said on Wednesday, as his team prepared for Game 1 on Friday (6:30 p.m. PT, TBS). "He wanted to contribute, and he knew that relieving was probably going to be his best option. There were times we tried to stretch him out some. We probably never got him into a position where he could start a game and give us 80 or 90 pitches, but I think moving him around in the bullpen and pitching him in different roles allowed him to adjust to whatever role we put him in, and he is that one guy where there's no set role for him."
Melvin sees that as more of a benefit than a disadvantage, particularly since Anderson throws left-handed.
"He can pitch a couple innings for us, he can match up against a lefty, he can come in in the middle of an inning," Melvin said. "Based on his starting ability and his weapon against right-handers, he can get us through a whole inning. With us moving around a little bit, I think it allows him to be ready for whatever role we use him."
"I have to be ready from the first pitch to the last out," said Anderson, who didn't allow a run in his final two regular-season appearances. "I could be in any situation. A couple hitters here, or it's an inning in the middle or go long if the starter doesn't go long. My stuff kind of plays anywhere, so it's being open to those roles and trying to help the team win."
Anderson struggled greatly against the Tigers this year, allowing 10 earned runs on 13 hits, including three home runs, in 8 2/3 combined innings. Seven of those runs came in 5 2/3 innings in an April start, not too long before it was discovered Anderson was pitching on a bum ankle. Then he faced the Tigers in his first appearance off the disabled list on Aug. 28, allowing three runs in as many innings out of the bullpen.
Considering he could've been pitching with an injury in the first outing and was just coming back from one in his second, that's not exactly a telling sample size. More significant is what Anderson was able to do against the Tigers in a Game 3 start last year: allow only two hits in six scoreless innings in a postseason setting.
"Getting to the postseason last year and getting a test, well, I've been here for a while when we struggled, so just getting there and trying to help us win is a big thing," Anderson said. "Starting is what I've done pretty much up until this point, but now it's about where is the need. Egos go out of the window in the postseason."
A's won't rush decision on improving Cespedes
OAKLAND -- Yoenis Cespedes showed continued improvement during workouts on Wednesday afternoon at the Coliseum, but whether his ailing right shoulder is healthy enough to warrant a start for Friday's American League Division Series opener (6:30 p.m. PT, TBS) against Detroit remains unclear.
The A's at least remain hopeful that the right-handed slugger will be available as a designated hitter for Game 1 of the ALDS, should he not be able to play the field. But they can't chance either if they believe playing time will only worsen the shoulder, which was diagnosed with tendinitis last week.
Cespedes DH'd nine straight games to rest his shoulder before returning to left field last Friday, only to last three innings before departing with pain.
"We have to be pretty confident," said manager Bob Melvin. "We have Thursday and Friday to figure that out, whether or not we feel like he needs pregame Friday to make a decision."
Cespedes was one of several hitters to step in against Dan Straily and Tommy Milone in an informal three-inning simulated game on Wednesday, but one of just a few to actually swing.
"His swing was a lot more aggressive," said Melvin. "I think yesterday, he was trying to ease into it, where today, you could tell right away his swings were much more aggressive. I think, hopefully, we're on a good path of getting him in the lineup somehow. We'll have a better indication tomorrow whether that's in left field or not.
"And with him, you can tell pretty easily. He'll try to grind through some things, but when you see the velocity he had behind his swing today, you can tell the shoulder wasn't bothering him."
Cespedes did not attempt to do any throwing on Wednesday. That will wait until Thursday, when he's expected to be limited to playing catch. Should he get through that exercise without any issues, the A's will look to lengthen him out.
In the event Cespedes is restricted to hitting duties come Friday, Melvin is expected to play Brandon Moss in left field -- "He can play anywhere," Melvin said -- and give Daric Barton the start at first base.
But ideally, the A's want a healthy Cespedes arm in left field.
When asked how honest Cespedes is with the staff when it comes to his health, Melvin smiled and paused for more than five seconds.
"Hmm," he began. "He wants to play -- let's put it that way. It's a combination of what the trainer thinks, how he feels, myself, all of the above."
Mindful of approach, A's plan to make Tigers work
OAKLAND -- Though it'd be nice, the A's are hardly expecting a repeat performance against Detroit's formidable foursome, bringing into question their approach against them when the American League Division Series begins Friday (6:30 p.m. PT, TBS).
The last time Oakland hitters faced Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister in a four-game set, they outscored Detroit, 34-20.
Scherzer, who starts Game 1 against Bartolo Colon on Friday, was knocked out by the A's after just five innings on Aug. 29, having previously completed at least six in every start after April 24. The A's tagged him for a season-high six runs on a season high-tying eight hits, two of them homers.
"That doesn't always happen off him," said A's manager Bob Melvin. "We just had a good series where we swung the bats very well no matter who we were facing, and it just carried over and we had some momentum at the time. It ended up being a very good offensive series for us. I don't think we can expect to have the same kind of results, even though we'll try to have the same type of game plan."
"That was big," said Brandon Moss. "I think it's kind of what got us on an offensive role. The knock against our offense last year is that we always struggled against really good starters. We'd face an ace and get shut down. They've got four or five aces over there. Obviously, you're not going to go out and do what we did every single night, but to have success against them and get on a roll like we did really did a lot for our confidence."
Much of that success stemmed from the A's ability to force Detroit's starters to labor in the first few innings, particularly the opening one. Oakland made them throw a total of 117 pitches in the first inning, including 29 by Scherzer.
"We did, but we're also aware, too, that the next time we see teams they'll try to get strike one, and we can be aggressive early in the count, too," Melvin said. "It's a bit of a chess game as far as that goes. We have the ability to be aggressive early, and we have the ability to work counts. You have to look for a ball that you want, and if it's not there early, then you move on and try to wait for that pitch."
The A's ranked fourth in the Majors in pitches per plate appearance this season, averaging 3.94. Only the Indians (3.95), the Twins and Red Sox (both finishing at 4.02) saw more pitches. Yet the A's also swung at the first pitch 24.5 percent of the time, the seventh-highest mark of any team.
"We're up there looking for pitches that we can handle," said hitting coach Chili Davis. "Our main objective is to get pitches we can hit. We're going to be as aggressive early as they force us to be. They're going to nibble or they're not. I think the more you make a pitcher pitch, the more chances are there they're going to make a mistake.
"We have to balance being aggressive and waiting for that pitch. They've done it all year. That's why we're here, in the position we're in now."