A's bullpen forming effective, cohesive unit

A's bullpen forming effective, cohesive unit

SEATTLE -- The A's bullpen, not long ago its weakest link, has quickly morphed into perhaps its biggest asset.

The 2016 season is not even a week old, but already these green and gold relievers -- on Friday responsible for 4 2/3 scoreless innings in a 3-2 victory over the Mariners -- are forming a special, cohesive unit.

"We all feel that we can be the guy that's throwing the eighth or the ninth in any situation," says Fernando Rodriguez, but roles are seemingly of no matter to them.

Rodriguez's typically comes with a mop, and the right-hander has operated it with ease, as evidenced Friday when he entered in relief of Eric Surkamp in the fifth inning with runners on first and third and one out and induced an inning-ending double play from Mariners slugger Nelson Cruz.

Fast forward to the eighth inning of a tied game, and there stood closer Sean Doolittle doing a job typically not reserved for him. Except the matchups called for it, and Doolittle responded accordingly, stranding a runner to keep the game tied, allowing Chris Coghlan to untie it in the next frame with a home run off Mariners closer Steve Cishek.

Manager Bob Melvin has said Doolittle and Ryan Madson will act as interchangeable parts in the eighth and ninth innings this season, and sure enough it was Madson taking the stage in the ninth. The right-hander breezed through it, striking out two en route to notching his second save.

"It's great that you have a true closer who will do that for you to get the best matchups for the team," Melvin said.

Egos are nonexistent among this seven-man group, which dined together in Seattle on Thursday night. Veteran righty John Axford organized the gathering at a waterfront seafood restaurant, where a shared meal allowed for a bonding experience away from the field.

On it, they're just as unified.

"We're having a great time out there," Rodriguez said. "Everybody's really come together. It's a fun group to be around. Everybody's just trying to help everybody out."

Arguably no one did that better than Rodriguez on Friday, after Melvin requested he keep the ball low, "and it'll get you a ground ball to end the inning," Rodriguez recalled. "After the game, he said, 'Told you.'"

"That was definitely the biggest part of the game," Madson said. "I did that [job] last year [for the Royals], so you take pride in it when you're doing it, and I think it sometimes gets overlooked."

Rodriguez, one of few returning pieces from a beleaguered 2015 bullpen that produced a 4.56 ERA, also pitched a scoreless sixth, ahead of Axford's perfect seventh. He has not allowed a run in his first 4 2/3 innings this season.

"The farther you go in the game, obviously, are the guys you consider your stars, but for me, that guy that comes in with guys on base and picks up the starter probably has the toughest job," Melvin said.

Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.