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OAK@TB: Pomeranz fans three over five scoreless

ST. PETERSBURG -- The mashing A's didn't do much mashing Tuesday night. Not that it even mattered.

The club strayed from the long ball in its 2014 debut at Tropicana Field, instead gently walking over its latest victims with more than enough patience to perturb Tampa Bay starter Jake Odorizzi and keep the Rays' bullpen in constant motion.

Lefty Drew Pomeranz helped out the cause with his third straight five-inning scoreless outing, as the A's exited the night with a 3-0 victory in St. Petersburg, marking their fourth straight win and 10th in their last 11 games.

They also walked away from the three-game series opener with a new closer in tow. Manager Bob Melvin suggested after the win that lefty Sean Doolittle will likely handle ninth-inning duties going forward, as he did Tuesday when notching his third save.

It's the first time Melvin has acknowledged this, having pointed to a closer-by-committee approach since Jim Johnson was stripped of the job just two weeks into the season.

"I've gotten to do it very sporadically over the last couple of years and a little bit this year, and it is a little bit different out there when you're trying to nail down the last three outs of the game in a tight ballgame," said Doolittle, "but the more I've done it, the more and more I've been able to control that adrenaline and use it to my advantage and feed off it, and I'm starting to feel more comfortable in that spot."

Such stability can seemingly only make the A's better -- a scary thought, considering just how good they've been, despite a handful of early-season bullpen blips.

The A's are a season-high 13 games over .500 and have outscored the opposition, 74-18, over their last 11 games, with their starters allowing one run or fewer eight times while posting a 1.42 ERA.

Pomeranz, gradually building up his pitch count after beginning the year in the bullpen, has yet to allow a run in the rotation. On Tuesday, he held the Rays to just three hits and two walks with three strikeouts, along the way becoming the first A's pitcher since Ted Lilly (September 2003) to string together three consecutive starts of five innings pitched and no runs allowed.

The lefty retired each of his first six batters and worked his way out of a bases-loaded jam in the third, facing just one over the minimum in his final two innings to finish at 89 pitches.

Pomeranz will likely be given the green light for the 100-pitch mark his next time out.

"He's done an incredible job for us," said Doolittle. "The numbers speak for themselves, but he pitched out of a couple of jams today and seemed to be in control for the most part, mixing his pitches and changing speeds. He's looking real comfortable and like he's pitching with a lot of confidence."

"Five and dive, three times in a row," said a smiling Pomeranz.

His teammates, meanwhile, did all of their scoring in the third inning, getting a two-run double from Coco Crisp -- who later exited the game with neck soreness -- and an RBI base hit off the bat of John Jaso against Odorizzi.

But their work didn't stop there.

The A's forced Odorizzi to throw 40 pitches in the next inning, tagging him for 113 total in just 4 2/3 innings -- 20 of which were seen by catcher Derek Norris, who drew a 14-pitch walk in the fourth and finished with a career-high-tying three walks in all.

The club saw 183 pitches from five Rays pitchers, and "that's why we end up playing 3-0 games in four hours," said Melvin.

"That's when we're at our best. There will be games where we have 11, 12 guys left on base like we did today, and it will feel kind of frustrating, but then there's other games we'll get them in and score 10 runs. Either way, the way we work, the starter is significant in scoring the runs and winning the game."

"Oakland is that group, that's how they've put that group together," said Rays manager Joe Maddon. "You look up and down that lineup, there are some very patient hitters that can foul off the borderline pitch and get to the next pitch, and that's a big part of their success."

The three runs paled in comparison to the 30 they combined for in three games in Cleveland over the weekend, and their 3-for-16 showing with runners in scoring position wasn't so encouraging, but the A's relied on four scoreless innings from the bullpen to keep their lead intact.

Dan Otero put together two scoreless innings, with Luke Gregerson getting the job done in the eighth in advance of Doolittle's nearly perfect frame.

The southpaw struck out each of his first two batters, giving him 30 in 22 innings this year, before walking his first batter since Aug. 31, 2013, against the Rays -- a stretch spanning 30 appearances and 33 innings.

"I think we were all kind of shocked," said Melvin. "I don't want to say I'm glad it's out of the way, but that kind of becomes a thing of its own, and at times it probably puts a little more pressure than you need. We all know he's got good command. One walk isn't going to make any difference to us." Comments