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07/07/12 10:11 PM ET

A's relievers pitching admirably in close games

OAKLAND -- It's easy to forget about the bullpen when a team rallies to get a late-inning win, as the focus naturally turns to the offensive plays that spark the victory. But behind every dramatic win is a relief corps that pitches well enough to keep its team in the game.

That's certainly been the case for the A's in their last three games, all of them wins in which they were trailing in the sixth inning or later. The latest was Friday night, when Oakland scored a run to tie the game at 1-1 in the eighth inning, before eventually winning in the 11th.

The attention was paid to rookie Chris Carter's walk-off home run, but he wouldn't have been in position for the game-ender had the team's bullpen not pitched four scoreless innings to keep Oakland in the game.

All told, in the past three games, six Oakland relievers have combined to throw 10 spotless innings with their team either facing a deficit or clinging to a one-run lead. Despite the high-pressure environment, the bullpen has thrived.

"It seems like each and every guy that we throw a little bit more on their plate, they do extremely well with it," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "[Jerry] Blevins is matching up late in games now and doing some things that he wasn't earlier. [Jordan] Norberto is going to be pushed into an elevated role, too. We feel like we have a lot of options down there, not just a couple of guys."

Perhaps more impressive is that several of the relievers who have been thrown into the fire are young, and have impressed despite their relative inexperience. Left-hander Sean Doolittle and closer Ryan Cook are rookies, and Norberto is just 25 years old.

Doolittle said he and his peers have compensated for their youth by looking to each other -- they see one reliever pitch well under pressure, and the others know they can do the same when their number is called.

"It's kind of like everybody has that mentality down there, that we're just going to put up as many zeroes as it takes, like [Friday], for our offense to come around," Doolittle said. "The way things have been going, it's only a matter of time. It's been really fun."

A's set rotation for Twins series after break

OAKLAND -- Before Saturday's game against the Mariners, the A's announced their rotation order for their first three games after the All-Star break against the Twins.

Right-hander A.J. Griffin will go Friday, left-hander Tommy Milone will start on Saturday and righty Jarrod Parker will take the ball on Sunday. A's manager Bob Melvin didn't indicate what order Bartolo Colon and Travis Blackley, the team's other two members of the current rotation, would pitch in after the initial three, but it seems likely Blackley will remain in his fifth spot.

With the All-Star break lasting four days, all of Oakland's starters will be going on extensive rest -- Griffin with nine days between starts, and the latter two with eight days each.

But Blackley will have had even more days off. The left-hander hasn't pitched since July 1 against Texas, with his last start before the break pushed back due to his back stiffness and the desire to keep the other starters on their regular schedules with Thursday's day off.

To remedy the fact that Blackley could be going 17 days in between starts, Melvin said he might use the Australia native in relief before his next outing.

"Potentially," Melvin said. "That's just what happens a lot of times with a fifth starter. If we led off with him and didn't use Griffin, Griffin's a guy that's probably going to go the longest period of time right now [between starts]. We're trying to keep them all fairly current, to where there isn't one guy that hasn't pitched in 12 days, now he's expected to go out there and start.

"That's part of how we looked at the rotation coming back."

No matter the order, the rotation should be carrying some strong momentum into the second half of the season, barring a meltdown in one of the two games remaining before the break. Going into Saturday, Oakland's starters had allowed one earned run or less in their last seven games, the franchise's longest such streak since the 1966 Kansas City A's had eight straight.

A's starting pitchers are 8-4 with a 1.85 ERA in the last 21 games.

Cowgill almost ready for rehab assignment

OAKLAND -- Injured A's outfielder Collin Cowgill took part in his most extensive baseball activities yet before Saturday's game against the Mariners, and he is likely just a few days away from beginning a rehab assignment.

Cowgill, who's eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list on Sunday, has been out with a sprained left ankle, but he said on Saturday that he's not feeling any pain at this point. The biggest test has been running the bases, since rounding the bags puts extensive pressure on the injured ankle.

Barring any setbacks, Cowgill will do more game-like activities on Sunday and then go from there.

"See how that goes," Cowgill said. "If I pass that test, it'll be up to them to figure out the next step. Hopefully they'll be telling me to play somewhere [on a rehab assignment]."

A's manager Bob Melvin didn't have an exact date for when Cowgill could begin said assignment with a Minor League team, but Melvin did say that the outfielder is probably three or four days away from doing so.

"We want to make sure once he starts a rehab assignment that he's doing everything as close to 100 percent," Melvin said. "Again, it's tough to simulate getting out of the box, doing some of the things you have to do in a game, but we feel like he's getting a lot closer."

Worth noting

• Right-hander Brandon McCarthy has played catch the last two days for the first time since being placed on the disabled list on June 24. McCarthy was shut down after experiencing the right-shoulder pain that has plagued him for the last several years.

• Melvin reported that the Friday bullpen session for injured left-hander Dallas Braden went well. Braden threw 40 pitches, almost all of which were fastballs, with a few changeups mixed in.

• Fellow injured left-hander Brett Anderson threw to hitters on Friday for the first time since he was shut down in late May, and while he said he felt good, Anderson did give up a home run to Chris Carter.

"I was just getting him warmed up for the walk-off," Anderson joked. "I take about 50 percent credit for that actually."

Ben Estes is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.