The A’s finally got to put Sean Doolittle’s name on the lineup card Tuesday, for the first time this season. Doolittle returns to action after missing most of the first two months returning from an offseason shoulder injury. The A’s activated him off the disabled list Tuesday afternoon and optioned reliever Angel Castro to Triple-A Nashville.
“I’m excited to be back; it feels great,” Doolittle said. “It’ll be awesome to be back in the bullpen with those guys instead of cheering from the dugout. I’m really excited to be able to contribute again.”
Doolittle made five rehab appearances, of which the first two were rocky (four runs given up in two innings at Single-A Stockton) and the latter three were better (one run allowed over three innings at Double A and Triple A). Doolittle said he saw “steady improvement” during his rehab and has “a lot of confidence coming off the DL.”
Reports out of his rehab appearances said Doolittle’s fastball was hovering around 90 miles per hour – not the velocity we’re used to seeing from the left-hander. Doolittle said it “started to creep up a little bit” in his final outings.
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“But the main thing is that life and that deception is back on the ball,” he said. “When I have that, I can get guys out. I have a lot of confidence in my ability to locate the ball around the zone, and we’ve worked a lot on the secondary stuff. So I feel a little bit more like a complete pitcher this time around.”
The left-hander said he didn’t change his secondary pitches – changeup and slider – or introduce new ones, but worked on improving what he already had. Manager Bob Melvin said that could serve Doolittle well – particularly early on, if his velocity isn’t quite what he’s used to having.
“If you’re not throwing that hard – sometimes when you’re coming back in the fashion he is right now – it might be more important for him to use all his pitches,” Melvin said.
The A’s are not immediately reinstating Doolittle in the closer role. They’re comfortable with Tyler Clippard there while Doolittle – who missed all of spring training and said he is still in the process of building to peak arm speed – gets used to pitching again. Melvin confirmed Doolittle as closer is “what we’re trying to get toward,” as that will allow him to use reliable relievers like Clippard earlier in the game to protect leads.
Doolittle said getting back to closing right now is “the furthest thing from my mind, to be honest.
“I told (Melvin), however he wants to use me, I’ll be ready,” Doolittle said. “But I’m not even thinking about roles or anything like that. I’ll be ready when the phone rings. And hopefully I pitch well to get back in that conversation. But the main thing is, the situation of our team, I’ve just got to help any way I can.”
▪ Doolittle comes back at a high point in the A’s early season. They’ve won three games in a row for the first time this year and the first time since last Aug. 7-9. Here’s the lineup that will try to make it four straight tonight, against Detroit left-hander David Price:
And the Tigers’ lineup against A’s right-hander Jesse Chavez:
▪ Castro, whom the A’s called up from Triple-A on May 8, made a good impression by not allowing a run in three of his four outings with the A’s. He did give up six hits over three innings. But Melvin said Castro should “feel good about what he’s accomplished already to this point.
“It’s the first time he’s been in the big leagues, he’s shown he can get people out,” said Melvin. “My message to him was, ‘Stay ready,’ because we do go through some guys here, we mix and match, and whether it’s injury, performance of somebody else, he has already shown that he can pitch here. So he’ll stay ready to go.”
▪ Stephen Vogt makes his second start of the season at first base tonight. Melvin said he wanted to rest Eric Sogard and Josh Reddick – Detroit’s starting a left-hander, plus both played four games on turf at Tampa Bay, which is tough on the body – and it’s difficult to take both Reddick and Vogt out of the lineup. So Vogt gets the “half-day off.”
▪ Sonny Gray, who left his last start after taking a comebacker off of his ankle, threw a bullpen session Tuesday. Melvin said the right-hander “felt good.”