Athletics

A's spring training Day 29: Given green light, Doolittle's debut goes smoothly

A's spring training Day 29: Given green light, Doolittle's debut goes smoothly

MESA, Ariz. — After a delayed start to his spring, A’s reliever Sean Doolittle hopes he can hit the accelerator leading up to Opening Night.

The lefty turned in a 1-2-3 inning Tuesday against Colorado in his Cactus League debut. Having been held back from game action as a precaution, due to two seasons of shoulder problems, Doolittle said trainers have given him the green light to proceed without restrictions.

“I was told I’m normal now — take the training wheels completely off,” Doolittle said after a 4-3 loss to the Rockies.

He added that he thinks five or six outings in Arizona, with the possibility of a couple more in the Bay Bridge Series, should have him ready for Opening Night.

“I feel like my delivery is relatively low maintenance, and I do enough work on the side,” Doolittle said. “Mechanically, I’ll be ready.”

All three outs came through the air — two fly outs and a liner to left. Doolittle threw just one off-speed pitch, a changeup, but said he’ll weave the pitch in more as he gets more outings under his belt.

With Santiago Casilla having made his spring debut Sunday, all of the A’s front-line relievers now have at least one game under their belt. Ryan Madson and John Axford each threw scoreless innings Tuesday, a good sign for Oakland as both veterans experienced a bit of turbulence in early outings.

STOCK FALLING: Daniel Coulombe has a chance to join Doolittle as a second lefty in the bullpen, but he’s struggled to this point in exhibitions. Coulombe was charged with all four runs as the Rockies rallied from a 3-0 deficit in the top of the ninth to steal one from the A’s. He also issued two walks in 1 1/3 innings.

“He’s had a tough spring. especially to left-handers,” Melvin acknowledged. “We expect him to get the left-handers out, and not only have they been hitting him, they’ve been doing some damage too. So he’s gotta tighten that up a little bit.”

Six spots in the bullpen are locked down with Axford, Casilla, Doolittle, Ryan Dull, Liam Hendriks and Madson. In all likelihood the A’s would want another lefty, whether it’s Coulombe or perhaps someone with long-relief potential such as Ross Detwiler. If the A’s carry just four outfielders, they could actually take eight relievers if they desire, which would allow them to keep Raul Alcantara, who is out of minor league options.

NOTEWORTHY: Sean Manaea went 3 2/3 innings and held the Rockies off the board despite giving up seven hits. He was displeased with his slider and fastball command, and it took some good defense — and head-scratching Rockies base running — to help him escape the first unscored upon.

Third baseman Matt Chapman cut down a runner at home with men on the corners and one out. Then first baseman Yonder Alonso made a heads-up play to catch Trevor Story in a rundown after Story unwisely rounded third and broke for home on Stephen Cardello’s infield single.

ODDS AND ENDS: Colorado’s tying and go-ahead runs scored against Kyle Finnegan, who relieved Coulombe in the ninth. Finnegan had done a nice job coming over from minor league camp and nailing down a victory earlier this spring. … With the A’s off Wednesday, Jharel Cotton will pitch in a Triple-A game against the Cubs.

 

A's lower strikeout rate should help improve situational hitting

A's lower strikeout rate should help improve situational hitting

OAKLAND – We're still early in the MLB season, but through 27 games, the A's have been striking out at a noticeably lower rate than last year.

As a team, the A's have struck out in just 18 percent of their plate appearances this season, the second-best mark in the majors. Last year, Oakland ranked 18th in the league, striking out at a rate of 22.1 percent.

A’s manager Bob Melvin admits it’s probably too early in the season to really focus on those numbers, but he does credit hitting coach Darren Bush for the improvement.

“It’s just probably Bushy preparing them like he does and knowing the league a little bit more,” Melvin said. “The emphasis on trying to put the ball in play and staying within your zones – probably all those things add up.”

As noted by Athletics Nation's Alex Hall, three players have keyed the team’s improved contact rate: Marcus Semien, Chad Pinder and Matt Chapman.

Semien has lowered his strikeout percentage from 18.6 percent last year to 11.2 percent this season. Pinder has gone from 26.4 percent to 15.2 percent. Chapman has taken the biggest step of all, dropping from 23.7 percent all the way down to 10.2 percent this year.

Not surprisingly, all three players are having career years at the plate.

Pinder leads the team with a .320 batting average and ranks third with an .848 OPS. Semien is slashing .311/.379/.505 and looks like an All-Star at shortstop.

And then there’s Chapman. The A’s third baseman looks like a legitimate MVP candidate, hitting .311/.407/.633 with eight home runs and 18 RBI, while only striking out 11 times all season. Chapman is also on pace to shatter his previous career high in walks.

[RELATED: Chad Pinder making strong case to be in A's everyday lineup]

To this point, the decrease in strikeouts has not led to an increase in run production, but it is certainly putting more pressure on opposing defenses. Over the course of the season, it should also help the A’s improve their situational hitting, such as driving in a runner from third with less than two outs.

Oakland is still hitting for plenty of power, which means it will likely succumb to its share of strikeouts. But the improved contact rate this season is certainly a noticeable and welcome development.

Ex-A's reliever Shawn Kelley has no hard feelings toward former team

kelleyap.jpg
AP

Ex-A's reliever Shawn Kelley has no hard feelings toward former team

OAKLAND -- After Shawn Kelley's stellar stretch run with the A's last season, it seemed likely he would return to Oakland as a free agent.

The 34-year-old right-hander appeared in 19 games last August and September, registering a 2.16 ERA and 0.78 WHIP, with 18 strikeouts in 16 2/3 innings. But while there was initially mutual interest in a reunion, the A's decided to go in a different direction and Kelley signed a one-year, $2.75 million contract with the Texas Rangers.

"We talked from the very end of (the season) about getting something done," Kelley told NBC Sports California. "I think when they got (Joakim) Soria and gave him that money (two years, $15 million), my agent called right away because we were kind of worried. We had been talking to (A's general manager David) Forst. Both sides were like, 'Yeah, let's get something done.' When Soria signed, we kind of saw the writing on the wall. And then (Forst) wished me luck in whatever decision I made. He said, 'We spent a little on a couple of guys and so we wish you the best and thanks for everything you did coming over, but we're out of money.'"

Kelley says he carries no hard feelings toward his former squad, as he understands the business side of baseball. He still has a great relationship with his old teammates and manager.

"I talked to all the guys when they came to Texas and I talked to them (Tuesday)," Kelley said. "I went over and gave BoMel a big hug and told him, 'Man, I'm sorry. I wanted to be here. It just didn't work out.' That's part of it. It wasn't for a lack of effort. There was obviously genuine interest from me and definitely some genuine interest from their side. Things just go different ways sometimes in free agency."

Kelley has carried last year's success into this season with the Rangers. He is already 3-0 with a save and a 1.80 ERA, as well as a 0.80 WHIP. He has notched nine strikeouts in 10 innings without issuing a single walk.

"It's been great," Kelley said. "It's a good group. It kind of reminds me of what we had over there last year (with the A's), as far as a good mix of young guys with some veterans, a lot of energy, and a lot of will to not give in and keep fighting. It's been a good experience."

Kelley is extremely thankful for the opportunity the A's gave him last season, especially after the Nationals let him go following his now infamous -- and probably overblown -- glove-slamming incident. He believes his time in Oakland rejuvenated his career.

[RELATED: Versatile Pinder forcing way into everyday starting role]

"I had fun when I went over there and saw a renewed energy and passion for just going out and having fun and enjoying it, and it not feeling like work every day," Kelley said. "It was a great experience. I loved it."

For now, Kelley is happy to be a Texas Ranger, although he doesn't rule out a return to Oakland down the road.

"Hey, you never know," he smiled. "One day, I may be back."