MESA, Ariz. -– As Sean Doolittle continues preparing for his season in the Cactus League, the A’s closer is taking an interest in a development unfolding across the country in the Grapefruit League.
Former A’s closer Andrew Bailey, after years of battling elbow and shoulder problems, is a leading contender to lock down the Philadelphia Phillies’ closer job. Oakland fans will remember Bailey as the reliever who came out of nowhere to win a roster spot in 2009, represent the A’s in the All-Star Game that year and cap his season by being named the American League’s Rookie of the Year.
The A’s traded him to Boston after the 2011 season for a three-player package that included Josh Reddick. After elbow problems sidelined Bailey periodically with the A’s, it’s been shoulder trouble in recent seasons that’s sidetracked him as he’s gone from the Red Sox to the Yankees, and now the Phillies. Bailey has thrown just 8 2/3 innings in the majors since 2013, and what a comeback story it would make if he won the ninth-inning role for Philadelphia.
He’s got a big fan in his corner in Doolittle, a fellow closer who actually grew up just a 10-minute drive from Bailey in New Jersey. They knew of each other growing up –- Doolittle is from Tabernacle and Bailey from nearby Medford -- and having played travel ball in the same area. But they didn’t grow tight until they became minor league teammates in the A’s system.
“We grew up Philly fans,” Doolittle said Thursday. “After everything he’s been through, to have a shot at the closer’s job for his hometown team and be able to take advantage of that, I’m so happy for him.”
Doolittle and Bailey were teammates with Double-A Midland in 2008, and how things have changed for each of them since then. Bailey was still getting a look as a starting pitcher in ’08, while Doolittle was a first baseman who would eventually grow so frustrated by continued injuries that he converted to pitching in 2011.
Phillies manager Pete Mackanin told reporters earlier this week that Bailey is probably the front-runner to be the closer. A’s pitching coach Curt Young said he’s kept in occasional contact with Bailey via text message, offering a congratulatory word as he’s continued plowing forward through all of his injury misfortune.
“He’s been through a lot health-wise, and that will tell you how bad he’s wanted it, so I’m happy for him,” Young said.