Athletics

Doolittle ditches experiment and goes back to old changeup

Doolittle ditches experiment and goes back to old changeup

MESA, Ariz. — A’s reliever Sean Doolittle is using a different changeup grip this spring as he continues working to master his secondary pitches.

Actually, the new grip is the old grip.

The lefty is back using the circle change that he utilized before last season, deciding to scrap the split-change that he experimented with in 2016.

“I went back to a circle change I’ve been working on all offseason,” Doolittle said. “It’s easier to repeat. I had trouble (with the split-change) staying through it. I’d end up yanking it.”

Pitchers grip the circle change as if making an “OK” sign with their hand.

Since converting from first base and arriving in the big leagues in 2012, Doolittle has relied predominantly on a mid-90’s fastball that he moves up and down in the strike zone. He also throws a slider and changeup but has yet to use either pitch with regularity in big league games.

Catcher Stephen Vogt said the ability to just show hitters a little different look is a big weapon for Doolittle.

“Even when they know the fastball is coming, they still have trouble hitting it, so that’s not a bad thing,” Vogt said. “But just to have another pitch in his repertoire that gets hitters off the fastball a little bit is gonna help him.”

The A’s have brought Doolittle along conservatively this spring, as they have all of their veteran relievers. But some of that extra caution stems from the shoulder issues that have plagued Doolittle the past couple of years. He has yet to pitch in his first exhibition and will likely face hitters in live batting practice before getting into a game.

The goal with an improved changeup is to plant the idea that something else might be coming other than straight heat.

“I think anybody that’s predominantly a fastball guy — he’s been around now a little bit — has to come up with a few different tricks if for nothing else just to put a seed in the hitter’s head,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said, “that there’s more of a complement here and you can’t just sit on the fastball.”

Watch Khris Davis' three-run ninth-inning home run give A's tie in Japan

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Watch Khris Davis' three-run ninth-inning home run give A's tie in Japan

Bob Melvin has seen this before. Even in Japan, Khris Davis is clutch.

With two outs and the A's down 6-3 in the ninth inning, Davis smashed a three-run homer over the left field wall to tie it up at 6-6 at the Tokyo Dome. The exhibition against the Nippon Ham-Fighters prevents extra innings and ended in a tie. 

"I literally said, 'I've seen this happen before,'" A's manager Melvin said to reporters after the game. 

The tie ended the A's exhibition series against the Fighters before their Opening Series games start against the Mariners. Oakland won the first exhibition, 5-1.

Davis was the hero, but Matt Chapman was the A's best player once again in the tie. Chapman went 2-for-2 with a walk, and went 5-for-5 in the two exhibition games. 

[RELATED: Five A's players who were cut but still could make impact]

The A's first run of the game came off in the second inning. Stephen Piscotty smashed a solo shot to left field to give Oakland an early lead. 

Brett Anderson started on the hill where he allowed two unearned runs while striking out four. Shortstop Marcus Semien committed two errors on the day. 

The A's open the regular season against the Mariners in Tokyo on Wednesday morning at 2:35 a.m. PT.

Five A's players who could make impact in 2019 season despite being cut

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Five A's players who could make impact in 2019 season despite being cut

One of the biggest keys to the A's success last season was their depth, and not just at the major league level. Oakland got significant contributions from several players who started the season in the minors. Names like Lou Trivino, Ramón Laureano, Nick Martini, Mark Canha and countless others played crucial roles after earning call-ups.

The A's hope to receive similar production from their farm system this season. With that in mind, here are five spring training cuts who could make an impact later this year:

Dustin Fowler

Fowler put together a strong spring, batting .293 (12-for-41) with two home runs, four RBI, and two stolen bases. That followed a terrific season in Triple-A last year, where he slashed .341/.364/.520. He will likely be the first outfielder called up this year.

Fowler struggled at the major league level last season but his upside is enormous. Still just 24 years old, he has plenty of time to put it all together in Oakland. With his combination of power and speed and the A's uncertainty in left field, Fowler will likely get another big league opportunity sooner rather than later.

Daniel Mengden

Mengden has already proven he can retire major league hitters. He just has to do it consistently. Last season, the right-hander went 7-6 with a 4.05 ERA and 1.12 WHIP, certainly respectable numbers in the American League.

Unfortunately for Mengden, the A's were granted a fourth minor league option and elected to use it in his case. The 26-year-old struggled a bit this spring, but with Oakland's questionable starting rotation, he will almost certainly get another chance in the coming months, or even weeks.

Tanner Anderson

The A's were very high on Anderson when they acquired him from the Pirates this offseason, and they're still high on him now, despite optioning him to Triple-A. The 25-year-old looked extremely sharp this spring, allowing just one earned run in nine innings, with 11 strikeouts.

Anderson has experience both as a starter and reliever, and the A's love his versatility. The right-hander could be a prime option as the second pitcher in "opener" games later in the season.

Jorge Mateo

Mateo has loads of natural ability but is still a bit raw at the plate. Still, the 23-year-old middle infielder is a dynamic talent with top-end speed and could be a tremendous weapon for the A's late in the season.

Mateo slashed just .230/.280/.353 last year in Triple-A but notched a league-leading 16 triples as well as 25 stolen bases. This spring, he went 5-for-18 with a double, triple, and three walks. At the very least, Mateo will be a valuable pinch-runner in September.

[RELATED: Mateo impresses A's in spring training]

Sean Murphy

Murphy is unquestionably the A's catcher of the future. The only question is when that future begins. Oakland appears set for now with Nick Hundley, Josh Phegley, and Chris Herrmann splitting time behind the plate, but Murphy will put pressure on all of them to perform.

MLB Pipeline ranks Murphy as the A's third-best prospect, behind only pitching phenoms Jesús Luzardo and A.J. Puk. Murphy is already MLB-ready defensively and his offensive production is improving rapidly. If he puts up big numbers in Triple-A, he could earn a promotion sometime this year.