OAKLAND – Sean Doolittle is less concerned with his role in the A’s bullpen and just happy to be a healthy part of it again.
The A’s activated the left-hander from the disabled list as planned before Tuesday’s game against Detroit. The question on everyone’s mind, of course, is when the 2014 All-Star will return to his role as closer.
Manager Bob Melvin says he doesn’t know. Doolittle says he doesn’t care right now.
“I’m not even thinking about roles or anything like that,” Doolittle said before the game. “I’ll be ready when the phone rings. Hopefully I pitch well to get back in that conversation, but the main thing is the situation of our team. I’ve gotta help any way I can.”
For now, Tyler Clippard remains the ninth-inning man. Melvin has said he’d like to get Doolittle reacclimated to major league competition with a couple of outings in a non-closer role and preferably low-pressure sitautons, though Melvin acknowledged that can be tough to do sometimes.
The timeframe for Doolittle’s return to the ninth could be tied to how quickly the velocity comes back on his fastball. Reports from the minors had Doolittle’s fastball hovering around 90 miles per hour in his rehab assignment outings, though he says his fastball started showing more pop in the last few of his five outings spread between Single-A Stockton, Double-A Midland and Triple-A Nashville.
“The main thing is, that life, that deception is back on the ball, and when I have that, I can get guys out,” he said. “I have a lot of confidence in my ability to locate the ball around the zone. And we’ve worked a lot on the secondary stuff,so I feel maybe a little more like a complete pitcher this time around.”
Doolittle missed the A’s first 47 games after suffering a strained rotator cuff during offseason throwing. During the long road back, he worked on honing his slider and changeup. Since transitioning from first base to pitching in 2011, Doolittle has relied heavily on his fastball.
“You’re always trying to make adjustments, and add things to get better and try to stay ahead of the scouting reports. I tried to use it to improve on my secondary stuff. We’re not gonna reinvent the wheel. Looking back, the goal was to view (the missed time) as a positive” by improving his overall repertoire.
And discussing the subject of his fastball velocity, Doolitle added: “I don’t necessarily think it’s arm strength, the strength is there. It’s just regaining that arm speed. Every spring training it’s a process. There are some guys who are freaks that roll into spring training and they’re sitting high 90’s. And there’s other guys that build up over the course of spring training. I fall more into the latter category.”
Melvin said Sonny Gray threw a bullpen session Tuesday and came out of it OK after taking a comebacker off his right ankle in his last start Sunday. He appears on schedule to make his next scheduled start Friday against the Yankees.