9/7/2013 4:40 P.M. ET
A's closer Balfour flirting with danger of late
By Jeff Kirshman / MLB.com
OAKLAND -- It's difficult to gauge the correct amount of concern there should be surrounding Grant Balfour's recent stretch of saves.
Balfour, Oakland's All-Star closer who ranks second in the American League in save percentage (94.9 percent) and is fifth in saves (37), has allowed at least one run in four of his last six outings, yet he's converted four of five save opportunities during that stretch.
He wasn't expected to be available for Saturday's matinee against the Astros after yielding a run and throwing 35 pitches in a shaky save Friday night, and he might not pitch until after Oakland's off-day on Monday.
All players, even those who set franchise-best consecutive-saves streaks, as Balfour did earlier this year with 44 dating back to last season, are prone to periods of poor play, but the A's hunt for a second straight AL West title with less than a month left in the season is not an ideal point to be experiencing such difficulties.
Is this merely a brief scuffle, or something bigger that requires more attention?
"If you want me to go out there and be perfect every time, it's not going to happen," Balfour said.
While the stat sheet might indicate that Balfour was particularly rough on Friday with two hits and a run allowed by the Aussie, a closer look clarifies that of the 35 pitches he threw, only one left the infield. Houston's first single was of the infield variety, and the second hit was a soft single to right field.
Then Eric Sogard committed a fielding error on a force attempt that allowed the Astros to score before Balfour ended the inning with two consecutive outs on a force at second a swinging strikeout.
"Granted, his stuff might not have been as crisp as we've seen earlier in the year, but there are going to be periods in time when guys struggle a little bit and it's not only just the closer," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "It's more magnified, as I've said before, when it is the closer because he's the last line of defense. But everybody's going to go through periods where they struggle some during the course of the season."
"You have to stay confident with those guys and sometimes you have to let them fail," Melvin added. "If you're too quick to do that then it shows you don't have confidence in them. ... There's 162 games and you're not going to be perfect."
A's use DH to get Norris, Suzuki in same lineup
OAKLAND -- With the acquisition of catcher Kurt Suzuki came curiosity as to how A's manger Bob Melvin would handle having two right-handed-hitting catchers in the lineup upon Derek Norris' return off the disabled list on Thursday.
The answer, at least Saturday against the Astros, is to play both of them. Suzuki got the nod at catcher, while Derek Norris, who caught Friday, served as the team's designated hitter against Astros left-hander Brett Oberholtzer.
"The way that Derek's been swinging the bat against lefties basically all year and the guys we have in the lineup, it makes sense to give him some at-bats against the lefty," Melvin said.
Norris doesn't appear to be slowed down by the left left big toe he broke two weeks ago. He went 1-for-3 in his first game back Friday and is hitting .345 with five of his eight home runs since July 1. Against lefties, he's batting .312 with all eight of his home runs.
Coco Crisp has also been on a hot streak, but he was given the day off Saturday to rest up for an upcoming 16 straight games after an off day on Monday. Crisp tripled Friday and has an extra-base hit in each of his last seven games, hitting safely in each of his last nine games and batting .344 with 19 runs, four doubles, one triple, eight home runs and 14 RBIs over his last 16 games.
"This day was on the docket for him," Melvin said. "We try to be careful with him to keep him healthy. He plays hard, he plays with that style in every inning of every game, and we've gotten ourselves into trouble at times maybe pushing a little too hard.
"It's always difficult to do. It's not like I enjoy giving him a day off at this point in time. But we feel like it's the prudent thing to do."
Crisp is coming off a recent wrist injury that kept him out of a handful of games in late April, and he left game early after fouling a ball off his right knee. Jed Lowrie batted leadoff for the A's in Crisp's absence for fifth time this season.
• Left-handed reliever Hideki Okajima cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Sacramento on Saturday.
Jeff Kirshman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.