PHOENIX -- A's manager Bob Melvin remained upbeat Thursday despite news that his closer, Grant Balfour, needed arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee and will be sidelined four to six weeks.
Balfour had what was termed successful surgery Thursday afternoon, and likely will be ready to resume as the closer when the season starts in April.
But Melvin is aware that timetables are guidelines and nothing more. The first names Melvin mentioned to pick up the slack, should the need arise, were right-hander Ryan Cook and lefty Sean Doolittle.
"It would be no surprise to me if Balfour was pitching in 3½ weeks," Cook said. "I don't know the specifics, but I know him, and he's tough and he's always in great shape. I'd bet on him.
"This changes nothing for me in terms of preparation, though. I'd still be getting ready to pitch one inning at a time, and that's the same whether it's the eighth inning or the ninth inning."
Cook is the logical choice to close if one is needed because he's right-handed and has done it before. He posted a 2.09 ERA and 14 saves in 2012.
The ninth inning, however, was something of a problem. Along with his 14 saves came seven blown saves. All four of the home runs he allowed last season came in the ninth inning, when he had a 4.72 ERA. Compare that to the 0.84 mark he had in the eighth inning, and it's clear that he's not settled in as a closer.
Balfour had 24 saves, a
"The doctors say he'll be pitching in 4-6 weeks after the surgery, so if there was any time to have it, with a long spring, this is it," Melvin said, noting the A's are at the beginning of a seven-week spring training, a week longer than usual, thanks to the World Baseball Classic.
"He's all right," Melvin said. "He's a grinder, and he feels he'll be able to rehab it with this long spring."
Travis Blackley, like Balfour from Australia and one of his best friends on the team, said he talked with the closer for a few minutes before Balfour left the clubhouse Thursday morning.
"He seemed upbeat about things, all things considering," Blackley said. "When he heard it was 4-6 weeks, he was happy, because he thought it would be longer. And no one trains harder than he does. He's a beast.
"Some players would have to get the knee stronger before surgery. Not Grant. He's ready to go right now. And I'd be surprised if he needed extra time."
What seems clear is that the A's are in better shape than most teams to weather losing a closer for a short time. Not only do the A's have Doolittle (3.04 with one save) on hand, but they have more relief pitching than they know how to handle.
In the last few weeks, Oakland general manager Billy Beane has added hard-throwing right-hander Fernando Rodriguez and veteran left-hander Hideki Okajima. Neither is likely to close, but they could fill the spots vacated by setup men Doolittle and Cook, if needed.
Even before Balfour's surgery, the A's were looking at a crowded bullpen, as they expect to carry seven relievers.
Jerry Blevins (5-1, 2.48) had a good season in 2012 and Evan Scribner had a 2.55 ERA. Left-hander Pedro Figueroa (3.32), righty Pat Neshek (1.37) and Jordan Norberto (2.77) were more than serviceable. The club picked up right-hander Chris Resop in a trade, and Blackley spent two-thirds of his time pitching in relief.
"This is where our depth comes into play," Melvin said. "This is the reason you accumulate talent."
Balfour was in the clubhouse early Thursday morning, then left to prepare for surgery. The club passed out a statement from him in which he said he felt some pain toward the end of last season but thought it was just one of those things.
"I didn't know what it was, other than it was a little sore," Balfour said in the statement. "Obviously we were in a pennant race, so I was going to pitch. (After the season) it kind of went away. I was able to work out with very little soreness, so I really wasn't concerned.
"I feel good about getting it done now. It will allow me to get ready for Game 1 of the season. I knew the way I was feeling I wouldn't have been able to pitch through it all season long."