Entering the 2011 season, the Oakland Athletics bullpen was projected to be one of the deepest and most solid relief cores in baseball. After the first two games of the season, the bullpen looks anything but what was projected.
Despite a solid performance by Brett Anderson (six innings, one run on five hits with one walk and five strikeouts), the Athletics could not come through to give Anderson the win.
For the second night in a row the Athletics jumped on the board first. In the bottom of the third inning Cliff Pennington led off with a single. After Coco Crisp lined out to the shortstop, Brendan Ryan, Daric Barton doubled to right field moving Pennington over to third. Pennington scored on David DeJesus' groundout RBI to Mariner's second baseman Jack Wilson.
Seattle would come back to tie it in the sixth inning, breaking up Anderson's shutout. Milton Bradley singled off Anderson with two outs in the inning. Former Athletics designated hitter Jack Cust followed Bradley's single with one of his own, scoring Bradley to give the Mariners their first run of the game.
Craig Breslow entered the game in the seventh inning in relief of Anderson. For the second game in a row Breslow struggled, lasting just 0.1 innings and giving up the go-ahead run to the Mariners before Grant Balfour came in to shut down the Mariners for 1.2 innings.
Is it too early to worry about the A's bullpen struggles?
Brendan Ryan lead off the inning against Breslow with a double, followed immediately by a Jack Wilson single to put runners on second and third. Michael Saunders came through for the Mariners with a sacrifice fly to A's centerfielder Coco Crisp to give the Mariners a 2-1 lead.
Oakland's offense showed signs of life in the bottom of the eighth as Coco Crisp tried to ignite the A's for a come from behind victory. Crisp led off the inning with a bunt single to Mariners first baseman, Justin Smoak. Daric Barton followed Crisp's single with one of his own on a line drive to centerfield. Crisp then stole third base, setting the stage for Josh Willingham to knock him home with a single to right field before the inning would end.
Any excitement the A's and their fans felt following the eight inning was quickly extinguished in the ninth inning however. Making his Oakland Athletics debut, Brian Fuentes gave up singles to Jack Wilson, Miguel Olivo and Ichiro Suzuki. All three Mariners came around to score to give the Mariners a 5-2 lead and their second win of the season.
With 160 games remaining, and the amount of talent and depth the A's possess in their bullpen, it is a bit premature to start panicking yet.
Prior to Saturday's game it was announced that Andrew Bailey had thrown from 120 feet and was pain free, and Rich Harden is also throwing bullpen sessions without any lingering soreness from his lat muscle injury during spring training.
Both Bailey and Harden will travel with the A's on their upcoming road trip. While both relievers will probably require tune-up assignments in the minor leagues, reinforcements are on the way should the A's bullpen continue to struggle.
Joey Devine is also continuing to shake off the rust from his time off following Tommy John surgery and could force his way back into the Oakland bullpen with solid performances in Sacramento.
The Athletics starters have put together two straight efforts that should have been good enough to win, they just have not had support from their offense or bullpen, a trend that won't continue for the entirety of the season. While the past two games have not proven it, the A's are simply to talented to continue to play this poorly.
The A's and Mariners will wrap up their opening weekend Sunday afternoon with a 1:05 pm start at the Oakland Coliseum.
Gio Gonzalez will make his season debut for the Athletics, facing off against Doug Fister for the Seattle Mariners.
The Athletics have proclaimed the game Japanese Heritage day and are donating $1 for every ticket sold to the relief efforts from the Japan earthquake and tsunami. The first 10,000 fans to the game will receive a free Hideki Matsui t-shirt.
Ichiro Suzuki broke Edgar Martinez's Mariners record to become the team's career hits leader with his 2,248th career hit on Saturday night.
Brandon McClintock covers the Oakland Athletics and Major League Baseball for BleacherReport.com. You can follow him on Twitter: @BMcClintock_BR.