A's again able to rely on Doolittle in key spots

Moved out of closer role, lefty rolling since start of May

May 20th, 2016

OAKLAND -- Sean Doolittle's time as the A's closer this year was short-lived, as he battled ineffectiveness and ceded the role to Ryan Madson. But as the calendar turned from April to May, the Doolittle whom the A's have become accustomed to seeing started to break through, even if it's in a new role.

"Traditionally in seasons past, May is when I've hit my stride," Doolittle said. "April historically for me has been somewhat of a roller coaster. Even in 2014 when I had a really good year, April was a mess. I don't know if it's just getting some reps out there or having it all come together or the timing just clicks, but that's where I feel like I'm at now. I feel like I'm in a really good spot."

Doolittle posted a 6.17 ERA in April 2014, but rebounded in May, throwing 12 1/3 innings of scoreless relief.

This year, Doolittle had struck out 10 in 5 2/3 innings in May entering Thursday's game, matching his strikeout total from April. He'd allowed one run in seven appearances -- he gave up two runs to Seattle on May 4 -- and walked just one. But perhaps more importantly, he's back to excelling in crucial situations, all the while sporting increased velocity.

In April, his fastball averaged 94.76 mph, according to Brooks Baseball, compared to 95.59 in May.

"Doolittle has been pitching so well here recently," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "It's real high-leverage situations that he's been coming in, whether it's the seventh or the eighth right now."

Melvin's reliance on Doolittle was on display Tuesday against the Rangers. He called on Doolittle in the seventh inning of a 3-3 game with a runner on second and two outs, and the lefty responded, striking out Nomar Mazara. After the A's went ahead, 4-3, Doolittle returned in the eighth to strike out two more.

Melvin said Doolittle's seeing more explosiveness on his fastball. Doolittle agreed, saying that while his velocity's been solid all year, he's now seeing "late life." His fastball resurgence combined with better control early in the count has led to an uptick in punchouts.

"I'm starting to consistently get ahead of guys a lot more. That's something that was really inconsistent in April," Doolittle said. "Now I'm consistently getting ahead of guys, which allows me to move the ball around and move that ladder throughout the at-bat."

As for the closer role, Doolittle said he's not caught up in official titles.

"Not really," he said. "It's cool to be called the closer, and I think everybody in the bullpen wants to pitch in that role … But there's still a lot of high-leverage situations that happen from the sixth inning on.

"You might not earn yourself a save, but if you have to come in in the sixth or seventh inning in a tough spot with guys on base, that might be just as important. That's just as high leverage. Your adrenaline is going just the same. That's where I feel comfortable."