The A’s moved closer Monday to regaining a key piece of their struggling bullpen.
Closer Sean Doolittle, who has not pitched this season while recovering from a shoulder injury, faced live hitters for the second time at O.co Coliseum and later said the next time he pitches will be in a rehabilitation game.
Doolittle said he threw 23 pitches and was “really happy” with his fastball command and the movement on his slider and changeup. Unlike in his first session throwing to hitters, the left-hander was not standing behind a protective L-screen, so the session felt more like a game situation.
And while Doolittle throwing 23 pitches in an outing often means “we’ve got problems,” he said, on the final five or six pitches he still “had enough in the tank to be able to reach back and get a few by (Mark) Canha. So that was good.”
Manager Bob Melvin confirmed Doolittle’s next outing will be in a rehab game, but he said it hasn’t been determined when or where. Doolittle said he was told extended spring training in Arizona is an option.
Melvin said Doolittle’s session looked “good, I thought especially the last 10 (pitches) or so. After he gave up a couple of hits, it looked like that got his attention and really turned it up afterwards.”
Doolittle said he’s itching to pitch in a game after missing spring training while rehabbing his offseason shoulder injury. While that will be a significant step, Melvin indicated it won’t mean Doolittle’s return to the A’s is imminent. The A’s bullpen has a 5.16 ERA, the highest in the American League, but the A’s have been adamant about working Doolittle back slowly to avoid a recurrence of the injury.
“You look at spring training, what a reliever needs (to get season-ready), it probably won’t be that,” Melvin said. “But we’re going to have to be comfortable with him. He’s going to have to go back-to-back (days).
“There are a lot of hurdles he’s going to have to go through before we get him back. The good news is the next one will be in a game situation, and that’s kind of the starting of the last step.”
Mujica comes aboard – The A’s did receive some bullpen reinforcements Monday. Right-hander Edward Mujica, whom they acquired in a trade with Boston on Saturday, met the team in Oakland, and his first appearance could come against a Boston team that designated him for assignment last week before dealing him.
“When I got the news on Saturday (about the trade), I knew they were going to be here,” Mujica said. “I said, ‘Wow.’ I knew it was going to be crazy.”
Mujica had a 4.61 ERA in 11 appearances with the Red Sox this season. The 10-year veteran was an All-Star in 2013 with St. Louis.
Melvin said he doesn’t have a set role for Mujica, as roles in the A’s bullpen right now are murky.
“They just have to be ready,” Melvin said of the A’s relievers. “So I intimated that to him, and he’s ready for anything. One thing I do hear is great things about his leadership in the bullpen. He has great understanding of the dynamic down there and enjoys being a stand-up-type guy as far as talking to guys about what needs to be done. So that’s good to hear.”
The A’s optioned right-hander Chris Bassitt to Triple-A Nashville to clear a roster spot for Mujica. Bassitt, who was acting as the A’s long reliever, will return to a starting role in Triple A.
“He needs to throw strikes; he knows that,” Melvin said. “You look at his numbers overall (with the A’s), he didn’t give up too many hits, but he walked too many guys.”
More injury news – Second baseman Ben Zobrist (knee) took swings in the batting cage and will join the A’s for on-field batting practice at some point during this homestand, Melvin said – potentially Tuesday.
Pitchers A.J. Griffin, who’s returning from Tommy John surgery and recently left a simulated game because of shoulder soreness, and Eric O’Flaherty (shoulder inflammation) were scheduled to see doctors Monday. Melvin said that “if all goes well there, maybe in a couple days they start to play catch.”
Monday’s lineups – The A’s lineup for Monday night’s series opener against the Red Sox:
And the Red Sox lineup against Scott Kazmir:
Coco Crisp is 0 for 15 since returning from the disabled list, and Melvin said batting him second Monday is “just to change it up for him a little bit.”
Bitter end – The end of this last A’s trip was, in short, not good. Oakland lost its last five games, including a three-game sweep in Seattle, and entered Monday’s game 12-21.
“It’s good to be home as long as we start playing better,” Melvin said. “And that’s what we intend to do, is play better.”