MESA, Ariz. – Sean and Ryan Doolittle spend an awful lot of time together, but Sunday’s scenario offered a different experience for them.
They took the mound just a few feet apart from each other to throw their first bullpen sessions of spring training. Sean Doolittle, of course, has established himself as the A’s closer, while younger brother Ryan, 27, is a non-roster reliever, enjoying his first taste of major league spring training.
“I can’t remember the last time we were on the same team. I think high school travel ball or something,” said Sean, 29. “But every offseason we work out together, we’re throwing partners. Up to this point at least, this is where we branch off. To be able to come into camp together and continue our work together, I’m excited about it.”
Ryan Doolittle attacks with his fastball much like his older brother, but Sean says that Ryan features a “more well-rounded and complete repertoire. He’s got a split-change that he has a really good feel for.”
The younger Doolittle had his career sidetracked early by injuries. Elbow problems sidelined him for all of 2009 and part of the 2011 season before he had Tommy John surgery in July 2012. Last season, he went 4-3 with a 3.32 ERA in 40 relief appearances for Double-A Midland.
“We always say it’d be cool to hang out in the ‘pen together,” Ryan Doolittle said.
Though Sean is the older one with the All-Star Game on his resume, it was Ryan who was dishing out the advice in 2011 when Sean, after multiple injuries derailed his career as a first baseman, switched to pitching.
“We did dry work in the mirror,” Sean said. “ I was bouncing questions off him. The offseason between 2011 and 2012, that was my first offseason as a pitcher and I basically was like, ‘Show me what to do. Show me how to work out as a pitcher.’”
Now Sean can be the one counseling Ryan as Cactus League games approach. This factoid speaks to the injury struggles of Ryan, a 26th round pick of Oakland’s in 2008: Half of his 152 career games in the minors have come in the past two seasons alone.
“This is a nice reward for all the time Ryan has put in,” A’s general manager David Forst said. “He’s always had the stuff – swing-and-miss stuff. Guys like that, you hope they put it together consistently enough to be a factor in the big leagues at some point.”
NOTEWORTHY: Right-hander Jesse Hahn took the mound Sunday and was sharp, which was a pleasant sight for manager Bob Melvin. All indications were that Hahn came into camp 100 percent after a forearm strain sidelined him for most of the final three months of last season. Still, it was good for the A’s to see the right-hander throwing without any discomfort.
“This is a guy we were a little worried about at the end of last year,” Melvin said. “ Knock on wood, he’s felt good down here. But to see him throw a ‘pen and get after it, and look like there’s no reservations to what he’s doing is good to see. Health is gonna be key with him. With the movement he has and the arm angle, downhill plane, at times he can go out there just with his sinker.”
NEW GUYS: Another pitcher catching Melvin’s eye was lefty reliever Marc Rzepczynski, acquired in December along with first baseman Yonder Alonso in a deal that sent Drew Pomeranz to San Diego.
Rzepczynski was acquired to be a lefty specialist, filling a role handled by Fernando Abad last season.
“What surprised me most out of him was the movement on his fastball,” Melvin said, adding that such a feature might suggest Rzepczynski could be effective against right-handed hitters too.
QUOTABLE: “If you’re not sure who he is, just look for the hair.” – Melvin, on the giant head of hair being sported by left-hander Sean Manaea, who describes it as a “Samo-fro.”