Over the course of a single week, Ryan Cook gave the world a microcosm of his 2014 season.
Last Monday evening, Cook was absolutely lost on the mound. The effectively wild but crucial cog of the 2012 Athletics bullpen bumbled and stumbled through another uneven appearance bereft of command, and visibly frustrated on the mound. For a moment in time, the 26-year old right-hander appeared less a pitcher and more the sole captain and crew of a small boat in the eye of storm. Struggling to hold his vessel afloat, as the oars snapped, waves came crashing down, and the safety of the harbor never came. With no pun intended – he was cooked.
On Friday, the reliever responded with a spotless two inning, three strikeout performance against the Boston Red Sox. In a flashback to better days, the Clovis native commanded his four-seam fastball with considerable aplomb and rediscovered the devastating slider that notched a 33% swing-and-miss rate last season. On Sunday afternoon, Cook provided a neapolitan offering of his best and worst characters in true Jeckyl and Hyde fashion. In an all too familiar pattern, Cook retired David Ortiz and Mike Napoli to start the 7th inning before serving up a single to Jonny Gomes and an RBI triple to Jonathan Herrera before recording the final out via strikeout.
The harrowing spectre of inconsistency, has partnered with a recent injury pattern to push Cook further down the bullpen totem pole. Once forming a lethal late-inning counterpart to Sean Doolittle, Cook has been usurped by both Luke Gregerson and Dan Otero on Bob Melvin’s speed dial to the bullpen. Which leaves him largely in a battle with the controversial Jim Johnson for middle inning duty and garbage time, while the impending return of Eric O’Flaherty threatens to push him even deeper into the shadows.
Though a case can be made for his solidly consistent K/BB ratios of 9.4 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 in his first two full seasons in Oakland, Cook began to run out of steam last September prefacing a disastrous postseason appearance by allowing 5 earned runs on 14 hits and 7 walks in 9 innings pitched during the final month. Performance aside, perhaps the strain of consecutive 70 game seasons had begun to take a physical toll, giving way to the first significant arm injuries of his professional career as he has battled both a shoulder strain and forearm injury in the early stages of 2014. Even more peculiar when glancing at Cook’s small 2014 sample of 19 2/3 innings pitched thus far is the total of three home runs allowed in limited action, after allowing only 6 in the first 148 1/3 innings of his big league career.
Standing firmly with the best record in baseball, and looking more and more like a postseason lock with each victory – there is little to feel bad about in Oakland. However, the minor transgressions of once dependable portions of the team are not to be unnoticed. Although event horizon has not yet been breached by the struggles of Ryan Cook, a closer watch may become a necessity in the near future.