OAKLAND -- Reliever Sean Doolittle had perhaps his best outing of the season in the A’s 11-8 loss to the Mariners on Friday night. The left-hander pitched a 1-2-3 inning in the sixth with two strikeouts and, according to mlb.com’s game tracker, hit 94 mph with his fastball multiple times.
Those are both the radar gun readings and the results the A’s saw regularly from Doolittle before he began to have injury problems toward the end of last season. He still only has four appearances since returning from his most recent DL stint, but has shown enough to have the A’s encouraged.
"Really the last couple times out have been as close to what we’ve seen in the past from him, as far as velocity, late pop on his fastball, and really mixing in some off-speed stuff to make his fastball that much better," A’s manager Bob Melvin said Saturday.
Doolittle’s fastball has always been his best and main pitch, and he would often throw it slightly elevated to induce swing-throughs or fly balls. But Melvin said Doolittle seems to be using his fastball a little differently now -- trying to nip corners of the strike-zone instead of attacking hitters middle-up.
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"When you have some injuries, you’re forced to do things a little bit differently," Melvin said. "Whether it’s on the corners, down in the zone, whether it’s using his off-speed stuff a little bit more to accentuate the fastball, I think he’s learning to do that."
Melvin wouldn’t say that Doolittle has worked his way back into the closer role yet. But he did say that as the A’s bullpen stands now, Doolittle is one of the A’s top three options at the back end of the bullpen, along with left-hander Drew Pomeranz and right-hander Fernando Rodriguez.
Melvin then added -- grinning, so maybe half-jokingly -- that right-hander Ryan Dull is "working his way there, too." Dull is less than a week removed from his major-league debut. But in three appearances for the A’s, he has pitched three scoreless innings with one hit and four strikeouts.
The A’s are at a point this season where they’re looking at players for potential roles next year, and Melvin said Dull has made a good impression so far. The A’s have used the 25-year-old Dull against some good hitters -- he has already faced Albert Pujols, Mike Trout and Robinson Cano -- and the rookie has held his own.
Oakland’s bullpen has struggled all season -- its 4.47 ERA is second-highest in the A.L. behind Detroit, and the unit has a 6.03 ERA over its past 17 games. Melvin, though, said the A’s "feel a lot better" about some of the individual performers in their bullpen right now, and Dull is on that list.
"He looks like he belongs out there," Melvin said. "Everything we’ve thrown at him so far, he’s done really well. Hopefully he continues, because he really could make a name for himself, the way we’ve had so many issues in the bullpen this year."
* The A’s will get their first look at another young pitcher Sunday, when left-hander Sean Nolin makes his A’s debut against the Mariners. Nolin came over in the Josh Donaldson trade with Toronto and has missed much of this season with injuries. He was 2-2 with a 2.66 ERA in 14 games at Triple-A Nashville before being called up this week. Nolin will likely throw no more than 90 pitches, Melvin said.
* Catcher Stephen Vogt is back in the A’s lineup after being scratched Friday with elbow soreness. Melvin said he made that decision because he "wasn’t comfortable" after seeing Vogt take BP with playing Vogt for nine innings. But Vogt did enter Friday’s game part-way through, got a hit, threw out a base-runner, and is a full go Saturday.
* Melvin said the A’s hope to have outfielder Sam Fuld, who has missed several games with back issues, available for their next series against Houston.
* The A’s lineup against Mariners right-hander Felix Hernandez on Saturday:
And the Mariners’ lineup against A’s right-hander Jesse Chavez: