The A's Are Full-On Bullpenning, So Let's Get Weird

Liam Hendriks and Blake Treinen. Hendriks is possibly attempting to count how many different pitchers the A’s will use over the first six innings.
Liam Hendriks and Blake Treinen. Hendriks is possibly attempting to count how many different pitchers the A’s will use over the first six innings.
Photo: Frank Franklin II (AP)

The Athletics’ full plan for tonight’s AL wild card game was revealed not when Bob Melvin named reliever Liam Hendriks the starter—though Hendriks prefers the term “opener”—but when Mike Fiers, one of two true starters, was left off the roster for this game. That leaves only Edwin Jackson, and he’s there in case of extra innings. The A’s are bullpenning.


Hendriks, a 29-year-old Australian righty, was DFAed in June and cleared waivers and sent down to Triple A, only being called back up when rosters expanded in September. His overall numbers haven’t been good this year, but he’s been successful as an opener: in eight “starts” he’s gone 8.2 innings with a 2.02 ERA. Opening against the Yankees on Sept. 4, he threw a 1-2-3 first inning.

Hendriks is just the fourth pitcher in history to start a playoff game after recording zero regular season wins, following Virgil Trucks in 1945 (WWII service), Yovani Gallardo in 2008 and Chris Carpenter in 2012 (both returning from injury).

Before making a little bit of history, Hendriks is sightseeing. He told reporters he arrived in New York on Monday and immediately went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“My wife wanted to go see the Heavenly Bodies exhibit, which was incredible, and then I was super ecstatic to see all the medieval armor because that’s what I love,” he said. “I am reading a book now about the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings in 1066. So it’s all about medieval French and English and all of that.”

Liam: Go to the Cloisters! You’ll love it.

So what should we expect from this game? Hendriks will take the mound first because three of the Yankees’ expected first four hitters—Andrew McCutchen, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton—are righties, and the fourth, Aaron Hicks, a switch-hitter.


At the back end of the game, if things go according to plan, the sixth through ninth innings will belong to setup men Fernando Rodney and Jeurys Familia, and all-star closer Blake Treinen, who will probably go multiple innings. That leaves four innings in between, for some combination of Ryan Buchter, Shawn Kelley, Yusmeiro Petit, and Lou Trivino.

Oakland is doing this, in part, because they basically have to—every single pitcher in the season-opening rotation got injured, along with most of their replacements. But it’s also, in theory, statistically sound. They get to play righty-lefty in the first inning, instead of merely in the game’s second half, and then turn it over to a bullpen that had MLB’s second-best ERA this season, trailing only Houston.

“There’s been a struggle between old-school mentality and sabermetrics, and this is a way to kind of incorporate sabermetrics with effectiveness,” Oakland closer Blake Treinen said. “You can’t say going a starter for seven innings is the best way. You can’t say that going an opener is the best way. But this is what’s going to work for us, and we’re going to ride it out, and we have full faith in whoever makes the decisions. I’m excited to see what this game does because it’s kind of a first of its kind, and I think we all fully embrace that.”


The Yankees are being more conventional; at least, they hope they are. Luis Severino will start, but Severino also started last year’s wild card game against Minnesota and got shelled, being pulled after recording only a single out. Severino will be on a short leash, and the Yankees, with Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Zach Britton, David Robertson, and Chad Green, can put together a bullpen game too if they have to. I hope you like pitching changes.