OAKLAND -– Sean Doolittle threw off the mound for the first time Thursday since re-injuring his left shoulder in May and both he and A’s manager Bob Melvin came away very encouraged.
Doolittle threw 26 pitches, mixing in his slider and changeup, and said he let loose at full intensity for the last few.
It’s never wise to get too carried away with one bullpen session, especially for a pitcher who’s endured one shoulder injury and then had a lengthy setback as Doolittle has. But the lefty closer already notices more life and velocity on his fastball, and that’s big for a pitcher who relies so greatly on that pitch. He’s scheduled to throw off the mound again Saturday, and he feels very encouraged about his goal of returning to the A’s bullpen before the season is over.
“Before I was throwing 88, 89, and I didn't have the hand speed or the arm speed that I do right now,” Doolittle said. “It was kind of interesting going back to the drawing board, kind of relearning some of the stuff I thought I learned the first time (rehabbing).”
Added Melvin: “That’s the best bullpen I’ve seen him throw. I think he feels psychologically better about letting it go. … He looked way better for me than last time.”
Doolittle missed all of spring training with a strained rotator cuff, then returned to the mound for one game in late May before hitting the disabled list again with a strain in a different part of his shoulder. Doolittle says now that he was hesitant back then to really let it rip, for fear of re-injuring his shoulder. That put unneeded stress on parts of his shoulder that normally don’t feel it.
“I learned a lot about my body and my shoulder going through the process consecutive times,” he said. “I think the biggest difference this time around is I trust it a lot more. It feels a lot stronger, I have a lot more confidence in it, and I think that's allowed me to get back to my natural arm slot and get on top of the ball and throw harder.”
The current roster configuration leaves the A’s without a true backup middle infielder, and Melvin reiterated that Brett Lawrie could draw the occasional start at second base against left-handers. In that scenario, the A’s could slide Max Muncy in at third.
The A’s granted veteran outfielder Dayan Viciedo his release per an out-clause in his minor league deal he signed in mid-June. He’s now a free agent. Viciedo hit .221 with one homer and eight RBI in 30 games with Triple-A Nashville.
As Viciedo exited, the A’s signed third baseman Brent Morel to a minor league contract. The 28-year-old has played parts of six seasons in the majors. He appeared in three games with the Pirates earlier this season before being granted free agency Tuesday.
Coco Crisp is slated to play nine innings in the outfield Thursday night for Single-A Stockton. It will mark the third rehab game for Crisp as he works his way back from a strained neck. The A’s have five games mapped out for him, then plan to re-evaluate his situation.