MESA, Ariz. — It’s been a strange spring so far for the A’s bullpen, which holds big potential but has been shorthanded early in camp.
Consider Friday a step forward, as Sean Doolittle threw off a mound for the first time since workouts began Feb. 15. He’s being eased along slowly in an effort to keep his throwing shoulder fresh and healthy.
Any day now, Oakland also hopes to add Santiago Casilla to the mix. The right-hander, who signed to a two-year $11 million deal in January, has missed the first 10 days of spring training while awaiting his visa paperwork to be completed in the Dominican Republic.
Manager Bob Melvin had no updates for the media Friday. But Doolittle, for one, eagerly anticipates Casilla’s arrival.
“We hope he gets here soon,” Doolittle said. “I think he’s going to be ready for Opening Day regardless of when he gets here.”
Casilla, who rang up 123 saves for the Giants over the past seven seasons, is projected as a key piece for the relief corps. To this point Melvin hasn’t expressed public concern about Casilla’s absence, but he said the urgency will kick in a bit if the Cactus League schedule starts unfolding and Casilla still hasn’t reported. The A’s play their first exhibition Saturday against the Chicago Cubs.
A healthy Doolittle is just as important because he’s a hard-throwing left-hander in a bullpen otherwise dominated by righties. He threw off the mound before spring training began and has said he feels good. But he and the training staff are taking the conservative route after shoulder strains have limited him to 56 games over the past two years. His 20-pitch session Friday went well.
“All fastballs, but it was coming out clean,” Doolittle said. “I was really happy with how I was able to repeat things and put the ball where I wanted to.”
Doolittle got to know Casilla during spring camp in 2008 and ’09, when Doolittle was a prospect still playing first base and Casilla was in his first stint with Oakland.
“That’s a guy I think I can learn a lot from,” he said. “A lot of guys can learn from him.”
In other bullpen news, Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal reported Friday that Liam Hendriks has withdrawn from the World Baseball Classic and won't pitch for Team Australia.
PROSPECT WATCH: Sort of cheating to place Jharel Cotton in this section, as he’s likely to land in the starting rotation. But the right-hander was sharp facing hitters Friday.
“The deception just stands out with him,” Melvin said. “… He’s got an assortment of breaking pitches.”
Lefty A.J. Puk, last year’s first-round pick, faced hitters for the second time and gave up little in the way of hard contact, with his changeup standing out in particular.
BEST SHAPE OF HIS LIFE ALERT: After missing the majority of last season following left hip surgery, outfielder/first baseman Mark Canha has earned strong praise from Melvin early on. Canha will draw the start in left field Saturday and hit cleanup against the Cubs in the Cactus League opener.
“He worked hard in the offseason. His swing looks good,” Melvin said. “He looks like he’s in great shape and I think he’s out to prove a serious point this year — that he can be a very productive guy at the big league level, as we’ve seen before.”
As the roster stands, Canha lines up as a platoon partner with Matt Joyce in right field and could also see time at first or DH.
NOTEWORTHY: With exhibition play starting, the A’s held their final workout at the Lew Wolff Training Complex and will shift operations over to Hohokam Stadium, where they will hold batting practice and pre-game workouts.
ICYMI Catch up with third base prospect Matt Chapman and what he learned during an up-and-down year at Double-A in 2016.
A’s president Dave Kaval talked at length about the team’s ballpark search in the most recent A’s Insider Podcast.