The hopes of the Oakland A’s to start off the 2013 season strong took a hit with the announcement that closer Grant Balfour will miss four to six weeks because of arthroscopic knee surgery.
The 35-year-old right-hander was a revelation as Oakland’s closer last season; the first time he assumed that role during his nine-year major league career.
He appeared in a career-high 75 games and went 3-2 with a 2.53 ERA and 24 saves, while allowing just 41 hits in 74.2 innings. His consistency in the ninth inning was a major reason why the A’s won 94 games and took the Detroit Tigers to five games in the ALDS.
Oakland manager Bob Melvin told Lee that Balfour experienced some tenderness in his knee toward the end of last season, but went through his normal offseason routine without issue. The need for surgery was only discovered by a recent MRI that revealed a tear.
Lee reported that Melvin was upbeat about the timing of the injury, explaining, "I'm kind of a glass-half-full guy, so I'm looking at it as, if there was ever a time to have it done, it would be now."
In a prepared statement, Balfour indicated that having the surgery was inevitable and he preferred to get it out of the way before the season started:
I feel good about getting it done now. It will allow me to get ready for game one of the season. I knew the way I was feeling I wouldn't have been able to pitch through it all season long.
Balfour has been a steady reliever throughout his career, going 27-14 with a 3.38 ERA and 34 saves in 398 appearances. He has consistently been a strikeout pitcher, recording 442 punch-outs in his 410.1 major league innings.
Yahoo!Sport’s Janie McCauley wrote that Oakland exercised a $4.5 million 2013 contract option on Balfour shortly after last season ended.
Despite the surgery, Melvin told Lee that the team isn’t counting Balfour out yet for the start of the regular season, but is comfortable with other options like Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook:
Those are the obvious choices, but we'll see how it goes. Again, depth comes into play. We're not ruling Grant out to start the season, but this is the reason you accumulate as many guys as you can.
Nothing can stop a team’s momentum quite like injuries. However, with Balfour having his procedure so early, he and Oakland will hopefully not miss a beat as they look to match last season’s success.
Statistics via BaseballReference