Sean Doolittle’s long-awaited first rehab appearance came Friday night and ended quickly. The A’s left-hander threw fewer than 10 pitches in a scoreless inning, his first game action since going to the disabled list with a left shoulder strain on May 28.
Doolittle said he threw eight pitches, while the box score for High-A Stockton said he threw seven. Either way, Doolittle said he felt “OK” but “a little out of sync,” which was disappointing considering how good he’d felt throwing a simulated game in Oakland last week.
“It wasn’t coming out as clean as I wanted it to, or as clean as the other day,” Doolittle said. “But the effort was there. The confidence in being able to let it go was there.”
The A’s will monitor Doolittle’s velocity, and manager Bob Melvin said Doolittle topped at 90 mph. That’s not where Doolittle was last year prior to his shoulder problems, but Melvin said he wasn’t sure if Doolittle had even hit 90 when he was coming back from offseason surgery this spring.
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“He didn’t give up any hits, didn’t walk anybody, threw the ball over the plate and felt good, which is most important,” Melvin said.
The date of Doolittle’s next rehab game is also fuzzy – he said he expects Sunday, but Melvin said that’s uncertain. It’s also unclear how many rehab appearances Doolittle would need before potentially rejoining the A’s, but Melvin has said he thinks it’s important the left-hander does return this year to experience pitching in big-league games again before the offseason.
Doolittle said part of the process Friday was remembering how to keep his body ready to pitch, from the time he warms up hours before first pitch and when he goes in.
“It didn’t really go as quickly as I wanted it to when it was time to get up and start throwing again,” he said. “I can do a better job of managing my body and making sure that I’m warmed up when that phone rings.”
▪ After going 2 for 3 with a home run against Astros ace Dallas Keuchel on Friday, the A’s Danny Valencia is in the cleanup spot again Saturday afternoon against right-hander Collin McHugh. Valencia was acquired mainly to hit left-handers, but has actually done more damage this season against righties (.284/.304/.557) albeit in a small sample size.
“We want to find out what we have,” Melvin said of Valencia, who was acquired Aug. 3, “and he had a nice night last night.”
The full A’s lineup against McHugh:
And the Astros’ lineup against A’s right-hander Jesse Chavez:
▪ McHugh doesn’t yet have the name recognition of Friday’s Astros starter Dallas Keuchel, who started the All-Star Game this year for the American League, but he’s currently tied with Keuchel and Felix Hernandez for the A.L. wins lead (13) and is 20-5 over his last 32 starts dating to Aug. 1. He leads the majors in wins in that span.
Melvin gave a quick scouting report on McHugh: “You go up there looking for a fastball and you’re not going to get it, for the most part. He cuts it – whether it’s a cutter, slider, he can manipulate that – throws his curveball whenever he wants to for a strike or chase, enough changeups, too. But it’s just the fact that you don’t see too many straight pitches from him. Almost every pitch he throws has some sort of movement on it.”
Chavez, meanwhile, is trying to turn around his second half. The right-hander is 1-5 with a 6.23 ERA over his last seven starts, a troubling echo of his second half last season when his numbers fell off precipitously. Melvin said it’s seemed Chavez lately is “maybe not using as much off-speed stuff when he gets in trouble – and that’s important to slow (the hitters) down a little bit. But more, he’s just getting a little bit more in the middle of the plate than on the corners, where he usually is.”