OAK@TB: Doolittle earns the save, secures win

ST. PETERSBURG -- The A's are done playing musical chairs in the ninth inning.

Having toyed, sometimes unsuccessfully, with a closer-by-committee approach following Jim Johnson's demotion from the role just 11 days into the season, the A's appear ready to anoint Sean Doolittle as their new guy.

Manager Bob Melvin didn't say so directly after Doolittle locked down the save in Tuesday's 3-0 shutout in St. Petersburg, but he sure suggested it, relaying as close to an official announcement as he had all year.

"The way things are setting up," Melvin said, "there's a good chance he will be in the closing role."

To which Doolittle responded, "It's pretty cool, I guess."

"He's done a good job of communicating with us as far as what our roles are all season long, so it's not exactly a surprise when the phone rings," the lefty continued. "We know what's going on. I've said to him a number of times, 'Whenever you need me to pitch, I'll pitch. Whether you need me for two outs in the sixth or in the ninth, I'm ready to go.'"

Doolittle's promotion comes just four weeks after the A's rewarded him with a five-year deal on the premise that, one day, he would be their closer. No one expected it to happen this soon, though, given the club's decision to reel in Johnson via trade in the offseason and pay him $10 million in arbitration salary.

Johnson's role is anything but defined at the moment. He's allowed seven runs, all earned, over his last six outings following a 10 1/3-inning scoreless streak and has a 7.00 ERA in 19 appearances, compared to Doolittle's 3.27 mark in 21 outings.

Doolittle issued his first walk since Aug. 31, 2013, with two outs in the ninth inning Tuesday. His strikeout total, meanwhile, stands at 30 over 22 innings -- including 19 against right-handers.

Lefty closers are an exclusive class, but Doolittle has always felt "like I've been able to get righties out just as well as lefties. That's something I take a lot of pride in, being able to get guys out on both sides of the plate."

The A's are now showing confidence in his ability to do it in the ninth inning.

"I've gotten to do it very sporadically over the last couple of years and a little bit this year, and it is a little bit different out there when you're trying to nail down the last three outs of the game in a tight ballgame," he said. "But the more I've done it, the more and more I've been able to control that adrenaline and use it to my advantage and feed off it, and I'm starting to feel more comfortable in that spot."

Crisp exits Rays opener early with neck soreness

OAK@TB: Broadcast updates on Crisp exiting the game

ST. PETERSBURG -- The A's Coco Crisp exited Tuesday's win in St. Petersburg in the bottom of the sixth inning with neck soreness.

It's the same issue that recently sidelined the outfielder for a week, after he crashed into the wall in Oakland while making a tremendous catch. He was 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles and two RBIs in advance of his exit.

Crisp is likely to be held out of Wednesday's lineup, which might've been the case, anyway, even if he didn't depart Tuesday's game early, said manager Bob Melvin.

Melvin is hoping to rest several of his regulars during this six-game stretch on an artificial playing surface.

Lowrie held out of lineup with neck strain

OAK@CLE: Lowrie exits early with neck strain

ST. PETERSBURG -- Shortstop Jed Lowrie was held out of the A's lineup for Tuesday's three-game series opener against the Rays with a neck strain.

Nick Punto got the start at shortstop instead.

Lowrie was forced out of Sunday's game in Cleveland after just one inning because of the injury, and he said Tuesday afternoon, "It's still a little stiff, but better mobility."

The infielder's status remains day to day, but he didn't rule out being available off the bench Tuesday, noting, "I think it just depends on the situation."

Lowrie is more likely to be utilized off the bench as a left-handed hitter, if at all, since more discomfort ensues when he's batting from the right side.

He took part in pregame on-field activities "to tolerance," he said, and likened the injury to what he experienced in April last year, when he missed just one game after incurring a neck strain while sleeping.

Long man Francis gives A's 'pen, starting depth

SD@CIN: Francis pitches five innings in 2014 debut

ST. PETERSBURG -- With newly acquired Jeff Francis now in tow, the A's have a true long man back in their bullpen, along with additional starting depth.

The club was missing both following Drew Pomeranz's move to the rotation, before claiming Francis off waivers from the Reds on Sunday.

He joined the A's at Tropicana Field on Tuesday for the start of a three-game set with the Rays.

"What I communicated to him [is that] what his role will be for us right now is length," said manager Bob Melvin. "We'll try to keep him stretched out to where he's potential added starting depth, which we're a little thin on. [General manager] Billy [Beane] is always looking to be incrementally better, and this is where we fell a little bit short, with length and another starter, so he fits in well.

"It's nice to have a guy who's pitched in different roles before and knows how to do it."

Francis started just one game for Cincinnati this season before being designated for assignment. In Triple-A Louisville, he was 4-3 with a 3.33 ERA in eight starts and said, "I feel like I've been sharp."

The 33-year-old southpaw split his time between Colorado's bullpen and rotation in 2013, marking the first time in his career he'd pitched as a reliever for an extended period. He struggled in both roles, pitching to a 6.27 ERA and 1.61 WHIP in 70 1/3 innings.

Melvin recalls a different version of Francis from his managerial days in Arizona, when Francis enjoyed much success in the Rockies' rotation, even finishing ninth in Cy Young voting in 2007. He also spoke to Reds manager and good friend Bryan Price, who relayed, "He's a great team guy and will do whatever you ask him to do."

"I'm ready to do whatever it is they need," confirmed Francis. "I don't throw quite as hard as maybe I did as a 23-year-old, but I still do mostly the same things. As a left-hander, just try to keep hitters guessing, not be too predictable."

Worth noting

• Right-hander Ryan Cook (forearm strain) has been cleared to play catch, Melvin said Tuesday.

• Another rehabbing A's reliever, Eric O'Flaherty, threw a pair of 15-pitch innings to hitters on Tuesday. He's likely to do so again in a few days, but in more of a simulated-game environment, without a protective screen.

On the mend from Tommy John surgery, O'Flaherty is nearing a rehab assignment, which would put him on track to potentially join the A's in June.