It will be a deep bullpen and shallow bench for the Oakland Athletics starting the 2017 season.
Before the A’s final Spring Training game, the skipper said this choice — which leaves his squad with an eight-man bullpen and only three position player on the bench — came down to defending his young starting staff, averaging 25.6 years of age:
“It just looked like, early in the season, we have some young starters that, to an extent, we’re trying to protect; you never know what kind of innings you’re going to get out of the complete group.”
While Coulombe’s spot on the roster was basically set in stone when fellow lefty Ross Detwiler opted out of his contract on March 25. With the green and gold in search of a second southpaw, joining set-up man Sean Doolittle, the 27-year-old Missourian was the only true option, despite his 0-3 record and 5.79 ERA in nine games (14 innings) this Spring.
Montas, on the other hand, had to outperform Simon Castro (1-0, 3.12 ERA, 10 games) to clinch that 25th spot. His 1-0 record with one run allowed over 11-2/3 innings (0.77 ERA) proved enough to do so, and the 24-year-old’s 0.94 WHIP in March was bested only by staff ace Kendall Graveman (0.81).
Melvin said the fireballing right-hander comes with another tool to add to Oakland’s bullpen:
“He’s kind of a unique arm. A guy that is really a starter, and has the ability to give you length. … Not only did he do it in the Fall League, where he was pitching three innings at a time, he’s pitched, almost every time out for us, one-plus or two innings. … It’s nice to know that you have that guy at the back-end — depending plus or minus — that you can run out there at least time around the lineup.”
Having room for Montas meant an A’s position player would be without a spot. The odd man out was outfielder Jaff Decker, who had a stellar spring slashing .313/.421/.500 with with four RBIs and five runs scores.
The decision to leave out Decker, who will begin the season with Triple-A Nashville, was hard on the skipper:
“That was the hardest one. He did everything he could do to make the team, and had we not gone with eight relievers he would have been on the team. And I told him that. … I would be surprised if he’s not here at some point.”
His exclusion from the Opening Day roster means that utility man Mark Canha will be the back-up center fielder, a position at which has to yet log a big league inning. Despite that fact, though, Melvin said he has confidence in the former first baseman’s athletic ability, adding that the possibility of his roster evolving early in the season is a definite possibility:
“Now, Raj (Rajai Davis) is going to get the brunt of the time, but I am comfortable with (Canha). And then, how long with we stay with (this roster configuration), we’ll see.”