Athletics

A's spring training Day 1: Special time for Doolittle brothers

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A's spring training Day 1: Special time for Doolittle brothers

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.

[RELATED: Lefty Sean Manaea: The A's 'Samoan Randy Johnson']

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.”

Many reasons why Bob Melvin was right choice for AL Manager of the Year

Many reasons why Bob Melvin was right choice for AL Manager of the Year

Bob Melvin is Manager of the Year in the American League. Not only recognized by The Sporting News a few weeks back, but now, on the grandest stage by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Melvin clearly deserves this honor on his own merits, but it’s even more impressive that he won what could have been a popularity contest. Considering Alex Cora and the season had by his Boston Red Sox. Or Aaron Boone with the Yankees, who wasn’t even named as a finalist. Both of those first-year skippers run huge payroll teams in huge media markets, and obviously lived up to some expectations.

But for Melvin, he took an emerging 2017 A’s group and raised the bar by 22 wins. That was despite enduring a completely broken-down starting rotation and a franchise that began Opening Day with the lowest payroll in all of baseball.

For reference: No team in the last 30 years of Major League Baseball has started the first game with the lowest payroll and gone on to the playoffs. Until the A's did in 2018.

Knowing some of the inner workings of this team without giving too much away, I can tell you that Melvin has a tremendous grasp on his club, both when they are surging and when they are struggling.

After Melvin won this award, analysts will try to point to tangible things such as in-game decision-making when it comes to quantifying how he managed his group so well. And yes, the A's did lead all of baseball in one-run wins.  

But for me, it’s all that you can’t see that makes Melvin the runaway winner for Manager of the Year.

For example, he facilitated the transition of one-time left fielder Khris Davis into an everyday designated hitter, and saw him hit more homers than ever.

Melvin guided Jed Lowrie through a career season where trade talks and the potential of a young prospect taking over at any minute could not have been higher.

Melvin established a back-end of the bullpen that fashioned Lou Trevino and Blake Trienen into one of the best setup/closer tandems in the game.

And last but not least, Melvin helped evolve players like Matt Olson and Matt Chapman during their first full MLB seasons into bonafide leaders on and off the field.

In short, the A’s are lucky to have Bob Melvin in the dugout. And even luckier that his recent contract extension will keep the Bay Area native at the helm for multiple years past the 2019 season.

A's Bob Melvin stays humble after winning AL Manager of the Year Award

A's Bob Melvin stays humble after winning AL Manager of the Year Award

Winning Manager of the Year honors isn't something Bob Melvin is a stranger to -- he's done it three times.

On Tuesday, the BBWAA announced the 57-year-old would take home the American League award after the Oakland A's finished a 2018 campaign that boasted a 97-65 record with an appearance in the AL Wild Card Game.

Despite being accustomed to the congratulatory wishes, Bo Mel remained humble.

"I said earlier -- it just means I've been around for a while, and I'm getting older to be able to be in a position to get it a third time, but it always feels good," Melvin said on NBC Sports Bay Area's "The Happy Hour," with a smile. "It's always a group effort -- our team this year was incredible."

The A's improved by 22 games from last season, and Melvin made sure credit was served to everyone, from the front office to coaches and, of course, the players.

"We are starting to see the fruits of some of these great trades that were made over the years," Melvin said.

And as far as the low payroll the A's are synonymous with -- don't worry. He addressed that as well.

"To be able to succeed with as low as a payroll as we had just means you have young players who are going to play really well -- and we did," Melvin said with a laugh.

He's not wrong.

Second baseman Jed Lowrie and closer Blake Treinen earned All-Star selections in 2018, and first baseman Matt Olson took home a Gold Glove Award and Matt Chapman earned a Platinum Glove Award for his defensive capabilities on the hot corner.

"To be able to do what they did and look at the Khris Davises and Marcus Semiens and Jed Lowries -- everyone on our team contributed," Melvin said.

Melvin earned 18 first-place votes from the BBWAA, beating out World Series champion manager Alex Cora, who came in second, by 11.