OAKLAND –- Sean Doolittle showed some rust in his return to the big leagues Sunday, but was happy to rejoin his A’s teammates.
That they ensured he didn’t walk away with a loss was a bonus.
The A’s showed the kind of offensive firepower that’s been largely absent in the second half, riding a seven-run seventh inning to beat Tampa Bay 8-2 and avoid a three-game sweep at the Coliseum.
[STIGLICH: A's rally late, top Rays with huge seventh]
The scoring parade took Doolittle off the hook after the lefty reliever entered in the top of the seventh -– his first major league appearance since May 27, due to a strained shoulder -- and got charged with two runs as he surrendered Oakland’s one-run lead. He allowed two walks, a single and a game-tying sacrifice fly to Desmond Jennings in two-thirds of an inning. Fernando Rodriguez entered and gave up Rene Rivera’s RBI single, which also got charged to Doolittle.
But his pitching line didn’t matter as much to Doolittle as the fact that he felt good physically and his team pulled out a win.
“Obviously when you visualize it over the rehab process of several months, you see it going a little bit differently,” Doolittle said. “But mechanically, and the way the ball was coming out, I was happy with how I felt. ... I’m happy I got one under my belt now. But already, that feeling of ‘just that it’s cool to be back’ is gone. And it’s time to get to work.”
Doolittle’s fastball topped out at 93, but generally sat in the 91-92 range. That part was encouraging given he didn’t eclipse 90 in that outing back in May, after which he immediately went back on the disabled list. But Doolittle found his adrenaline tough to harness Sunday. He said he had a hard time slowing his tempo down, which affected his command.
“The energy and the atmosphere is completely different,” Doolittle said. “It’s really, really difficult to simulate that on a rehab assignment. Having to pitch with guys on base wasn’t something I did a whole lot when I was (in the minors). I’ve just got to be a little more consistent getting ahead of guys. I didn’t do a good job of that at all.”
From that standpoint, it’s understandable why manager Bob Melvin didn’t call upon him to protect a 4-3 ninth-inning lead on Saturday -- one that the A’s bullpen couldn’t hold on to.
[STIGLICH: A's bullpen ripped by Rays in loss]
The plan is to eventually re-install Doolittle as the closer some time over the final six weeks of the season, but it likely won't be in his next outing, Melvin indicated.
“The first time out there, you always worry about (command),” the manager said. “That’s why you don’t just stick him in the closer’s role. I thought he threw some really good pitches. It looked like he had good life on his fastball at times. The (second) walk, more than anything toward the end, maybe endurance (was a factor) a little bit. It’s good to get him in a game like that. Hopefully we can increase it from there.”
The A’s hadn’t scored as many as eight runs since July 19, when they beat the Twins 14-1. They were able to bunch hits together in the seventh, and they got another big game from rookie Mark Canha, who matched his career high with four RBI. Canha is hitting .435 with 11 RBI over his last 12 games. He went 11-for-20 with seven RBI on the just-completed five-game homestand.
“You get in these hot streaks, and you don’t change anything,” Canha said. “You just keep rollin’.”