Sean Doolittle said he had barely started his offseason throwing program when he realized something was wrong.
“You start throwing right after New Year’s, just like normal, and I can’t get the ball 90 feet in the air,” Doolittle said. “After three or four times of doing that, it’s more than just knocking the rust off.”
The A’s closer consulted team doctors and had an MRI that revealed a slight rotator cuff tear in his left shoulder and inflammation in the area. The good news came when doctors prescribed not surgery, but a platelet-rich plasma injection and rehab.
Doolittle is still not expected to be ready for opening day, and said during A’s FanFest on Sunday no timetable has been set for his return. But he has resumed motion exercises and some strength work and said he is “optimistic” -- not only for his recovery, but how the A’s bullpen will cope in his absence.
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“We’ve got options,” Doolittle said. “As much as it hurts to say, I might not be missed as much as I thought I was going to be.”
“He can think that,” responded reliever Dan Otero. “But not having him hurts. No matter who else we have down there, he’s a key piece down there, if not the key piece.”
Manager Bob Melvin said spring training will help determine how the A’s will handle the ninth inning to begin the season. Options include returning left-hander Eric O’Flaherty or right-hander Ryan Cook, along with All-Star Tyler Clippard, acquired via trade from the Washington Nationals this offseason.
“We have some depth down there,” Melvin said. “We’re in a pretty good spot to bring Sean back and not have to rush him.”
Doolittle said he has been rehabbing at the A’s new facility in Mesa, Arizona, but that the going has been slow while waiting for the PRP injection to take effect. Doolittle, who had 22 saves last season with a 2.73 ERA, said he didn’t experience pain in the shoulder in 2014, but that underlying issues might have been gone unnoticed due to his taking anti-inflammatory medication to treat a muscle strain in his rib cage.
“It’s kind of scary once you have to go through the whole process of getting an MRI,” he said. “But it was a big relief knowing the doctors felt very optimistic and very confident about being able to treat it without surgery.”
▪ Melvin said the A’s will “probably start a little slow” this spring with catcher Stephen Vogt, who is returning from foot surgery. Vogt will catch bullpen sessions when pitchers and catchers report but may not catch in games right away.
“We won’t really know until we get him out there and see how he feels,” Melvin said. “But what I’m hearing from our medical staff, once we get deep into spring, toward the beginning of the season, it shouldn’t be an issue with him.”
▪ Melvin said that Marcus Semien will have “every opportunity to be our shortstop” in spring training. Semien’s role morphed a couple of times this winter -- he appeared to have the inside track on the starting job when acquired from Chicago, then became a role player when the A’s traded for Yunel Escobar, and finally became the frontrunner again when Escobar was traded to Washington for Clippard.
“You want him to go out there and prove it, and I know he wants to go out there and prove it,” Melvin said. “But he has the ability to be that guy.”
▪ Left field will likely be a platoon of Craig Gentry and Sam Fuld, Melvin said. But the A’s also have options in Rule 5 draft pick Mark Canha and Zobrist, who has played the outfield as well.
▪ Coco Crisp battled neck issues for much of last season, and Melvin said the A’s may have to “cut back some of the at-bats with Coco this spring” to keep him fresh going into the season.
▪ Starters A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker are both on track rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and expected back at some point in midseason, though the A’s have not set any target dates. Melvin said the A’s will likely be more careful with Parker, given this is his second Tommy John surgery. Griffin, meanwhile, is “champing at the bit” to return, and the A’s will make sure to rein him back when he begins throwing bullpens, Melvin said.