A's pen dominates Reds over 5 hitless innings

Four pitchers combine to preserve finale win, end 7-game losing streak

A's pen dominates Reds over 5 hitless innings

CINCINNATI -- With a lead in the bottom of the fifth, Athletics manager Bob Melvin went against conventional wisdom and pulled his starter Kendall Graveman at 76 pitches after giving up a leadoff single to Joey Votto.

Melvin, desperate for a win after losing the first seven games of an eight-game road trip, felt his bullpen gave him the best chance to end the skid.

Melvin's decision paid off almost immediately, as Fernando Rodriguez induced a flyout and inning-ending double play. As a whole, the bullpen thrived, allowing just one baserunner -- a hit batter in the sixth -- the rest of the game, as the A's won 6-1.

"He was tired," Melvin said of Graveman. "When he came off after the fourth, I thought he was tired, and I knew going out there I was going to have a short leash with him.

"Fernando Rodriguez is as rested as anybody we had in the bullpen. Went to him, and he's been good with guys on, he's good with righties and lefties. If we didn't get down to his spot [in the batting order], I knew that I'd use him for two innings, and then we go to our guys that we feel good about winning a game with."

Rodriguez's two innings proved crucial, because they got the game to the seventh inning and allowed Melvin to use his late-game trio of John Axford, Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson. The three finished Rodriguez's hitless effort, with Doolittle and Madson combining to strike out four of the game's final six batters.

The A's bullpen was as efficient as it was effective. Rodriguez needed just 14 pitches to complete his two innings and Axford needed seven to finish his frame. Of the four relievers, only Madson threw more than 15 pitches.

"I think it's our mentality down there," Axford said. "We know we're not going to be out there very long as relievers, so you just kind of bear down and you maintain your focus as long as you can, which is hopefully just to get those three outs in that inning and finish the job. I think all of us are pretty similar down there in that intent."

The outing continues what has been a good season for the A's bullpen, especially of late. After Sunday, the 'pen's June ERA is 1.88. Rodriguez has yet to allow a run in June through five innings, and he's allowed one run dating back to May 24. Axford is now sitting on seven straight scoreless outings, Doolittle is at eight, and neither of them have given up a run since May 24.

"We can do that," Melvin said. "Probably our biggest strength right now on the team is the bullpen guys, especially when we're ahead. So we just need to get a lead. We've had so many games where we've been behind."

Cody Pace is a reporter for MLB.com based in Cincinnati. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.