OAKLAND – With Sean Doolittle starting to resemble his past dominant form, A’s manager Bob Melvin now considers the lefty a legitimate closer option.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that Doolittle will be getting the next save opportunity. Depending on matchups and who’s available on a particular day, Melvin said he could also call on Doolittle in the eighth inning.
The only definitive statement Melvin made Saturday about the closer spot is that Doolittle, Drew Pomeranz and Fernando Rodriguez are his top three choices.
Regardless, Doolittle’s three-up, three-down inning of work Friday night against Seattle was the best he’s looked in four outings since coming off the 60-day disabled list with a shoulder strain. Doolittle’s fastball hit 94, the best velocity he’s shown, and he also moved his fastball around the strike zone effectively.
“Really, the last couple times out he’s been as close to what we’ve seen in the past from him,” Melvin said. “The velocity. He’s got some late hop and he’s mixing in some off-speed.”
Catcher Josh Phegley, in his first season with the A’s, is just now getting to familiarize himself with Doolittle’s stuff. He liked how Doolittle was able to paint the inside corner Friday with a fastball to get Stefan Romero looking. Often, Doolittle tries to stay away with his fastball to right-handed hitters.
Phegley said the improving velocity only enhances Doolittle’s stuff.
“(He’s got) that riding fastball, and the more velocity there is, it’s going to have more effect.”
Melvin has seen subtle adjustments in Doolittle, who was an All-Star in 2014 but made just one appearance over the first four months of this season due to recurring shoulder problems.
“When you have some injuries, you’re forced to do things a little bit differently,” Melvin said. “Whether it’s (using the fastball) on the corners. Whether it’s down in the zone, or using his off-speed stuff more to accentuate the fastball. I think he’s learning how to do that.”
Left-hander Sean Nolin eagerly awaits his first start with the A’s on Sunday. Sidelined for much of this season by two different injuries, including a left shoulder issue, Nolin says he’s healthy now and looking forward to his opportunity after coming over from Toronto last November as part of the Josh Donaldson trade.
Nolin likes the way his curve and changeup is complementing his fastball. His curve, in particular, he feels has developed into a ‘plus’ pitch after he changed his grip.
“I was always just throwing it normal. Now, I’ve spiked it with my corner finger,” he said. “It doesn’t have that big loop. It has a sharper break, which I’m happy about.”
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Nolin used his time with Triple-A Nashville to get to know another lefty, teammate Barry Zito, who he says was a terrific veteran influence.
“It was awesome,” Nolin said. “Throughout middle school, I was watching him on ESPN every morning before I went to school.”
Melvin is hopeful outfielder Sam Fuld, who has played in just one of the past nine games because of back spasms, might return sometime during the next series against Houston, which begins Monday afternoon.