PHOENIX — The A's carried as many as five left-handers at the same time in the bullpen at times last year, and they used them to great advantage.
Looking into 2013, however, the question is whether the A's can afford to even keep three this time around. Even if they can stretch the roster to wedge a trio of lefties onto the final 25, there will undoubtedly be shocks, including to some currently in the A's clubhouse, when the ultimate decisions on the left-handed relievers come down.
The shocks will come because the A's have one of the best crop of left-handed relievers in recent memory. Pitchers who would be locks to make the big league club in another organization won't with Oakland.
Hideki Okajima is the latest of those, signing a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training in the first days of the spring camp.
"I never looked at the roster when I was coming here," Okajima said with a grin. "I was just happy for the chance to pitch again in America.
"In Boston (where he helped win a World Series) there was never left-handed depth like this. I know it's going to be tough (making the team), but it's the same for us all."
That it is. The A's aren't saying, but it seems likely that Sean Doolittle, the converted first baseman, and Jerry Blevins, the only lefty who was with the club all year in 2012, seem locks to get spots.
Doolittle went 2-1 with a 3.04 ERA last year and struck out 60 with a malicious fastball in just 47.1 innings. Blevins was 5-1, 2.48 in his best big league season and has the ability to pitch both middle and short relief, including 1-on-1 matchups with tough left-handed hitters.
"I haven't been doing this for all that long," Doolittle said, having made the switch from first base in 2011. "But this seems like a place where there a lot of lefties who not only are good but can pitch in multiple roles. It's going to be tough."
In addition, to the three already mentioned, lefties in the mix include Travis Blackley, who came up big as a starter/reliever after being let go by the Giants last year, Jordan Norberto (4-1, 2.77), Pedro Figueroa (0-3, 3.32) and Garrett Olson, who has bounced around the fringes of baseball as a starter but who could be in the mix in the Oakland bullpen.
"Doolittle has that power arm you look for," pitching coach Curt Young said. "Blevins is more of a classic lefty; he can go a couple of innings, or he can match up with one tough lefty hitter. You love that versatility.
"Figueroa has come back from Tommy John surgery throwing strikes and he was good for us even though he rode the train from Sacramento to Oakland. Norberto has tremendous stuff, just the guy to throw against a tough lefty hitter. Olson came here looking to impress, and we're learning what he can do. And Okajima has that great deceptive motion and screwball."
He had one bad year (in 2010), but he was one of the guys who helped Boston win a World Series, and that means something."
The good news for the A's is that Okajima and Olson are on minor league contracts, so they can be kept in the organizationeven if they don't make the final 25.