Sean Doolittle already came back from a significant injury once this season, only to have his return to the A’s last for one appearance before he landed right back on the disabled list.
The A’s left-hander said he’s confident this time will be different. The A’s activated Doolittle from the DL before Saturday’s game against the Rays, regaining one of their key bullpen pieces following his nearly three-month absence because of a shoulder strain.
Doolittle missed the first 47 games of the season recovering from an offseason injury to his left rotator cuff. He returned in late May and pitched one inning on May 27 against the Tigers, then went back on the DL the next day and missed the next 74 games.
Doolittle has said that he didn’t feel fully confident coming back from his first injury. His velocity wasn’t there, and he wasn’t throwing his pitches with full conviction without worrying about whether he’d feel pain. This time, he said, “it’s a lot different.”
“I had a lot more success on the rehab assignment, both on the field and process-wise, as far as how I’ve been recovering and how I’ve felt mechanically,” Doolittle said Saturday afternoon. “I guess in a way I just feel that much more ready, that much more prepared. I have a lot more confidence going into it.”
Manager Bob Melvin did not reveal what Doolittle’s role will be in the short term. When healthy, Doolittle is the A’s closer, and Melvin said that, “As long as he’s healthy and he feels good, we’ll get him back there at some point.”
But they may want to get Doolittle a few lower-leverage outings first to ease him back into major-league competition.
“Whether it’s put him right in there, or give him a lesser role to start, we’ll see,” Melvin said.
It was important to both Doolittle and the A’s that Doolittle pitch again in the majors this season, despite the club being out of playoff contention, so that he could gauge where he is relative to hitters and not enter the offseason with lingering doubts about his health. Doolittle said Saturday there was another reason: He has spent so much of this season doing rehab work that the competitor in him needed to experience games again.
“I’ve worked really hard to get back to this point where I feel right now,” Doolittle said. “There were some times when it was kind of dark, and I wasn’t sure what the season was going to hold. But the second time around, we made some adjustments to the (recovery) program, and it ended up working out really well.”
Doolittle struck out the side on 14 pitches in his final rehab outing at Triple-A Nashville on Thursday. He was scheduled to pitch again Friday but was held out as the A’s opted to activate him Saturday. Doolittle said he was ready to pitch back-to-back days and can do so if necessary, though Melvin said he would prefer to avoid that right now.
Though likely headed back to the closer role soon – the A’s have not had a designated closer since trading Tyler Clippard – Doolittle said he’s taking nothing for granted, this season or going forward.
“Hopefully I can pitch well the rest of this year,” he said, “and throw my name in the hat to get back in the closer role next year.”
▪ Saturday’s injury news was not all good. Melvin said third baseman Danny Valencia was held out of the lineup with soreness in his right leg, the lower part of his hamstring behind the knee. Valencia had an MRI on Saturday, and a doctor will look at the results Sunday, at which point , “we’ll have a better idea of how many days he’s going to miss,” Melvin said.
Melvin said Valencia’s leg has been bothering him for a few days. Valencia went through pregame warmups and batting practice, but the A’s didn’t want to play him with an injury. Valencia was going to DH Saturday, but Stephen Vogt is there instead, giving him a partial day off before catching Sunday’s day game.
▪ To clear a roster spot for Doolittle, the A’s optioned reliever Dan Otero back to Triple-A Nashville. Otero was recalled a week ago and pitched in one game in Baltimore, giving up eight runs in 1 1/3 innings. He has a 7.68 ERA in 30 games with Oakland this season.
▪ The A’s lineup Saturday against Rays right-hander Erasmo Ramirez:
And the Rays’ lineup against A’s right-hander Sonny Gray: