Notes: Doolittle rebounds; Akiyama injury

March 14th, 2021

Of the three candidates vying to become the new Reds closer, one has struggled and two have yet to get into a Cactus League game.

But for the reliever who had been getting roughed up -- lefty -- there was some encouragement during his one inning of work in the fourth inning of Cincinnati’s 5-2 loss to the A’s on Saturday night at Goodyear Ballpark.

“It was a good night for Sean, especially after the first few pitches, he was really good,” Reds manager David Bell said.

Doolittle, a former All-Star closer signed to a one-year contract shortly before camp opened, gave up seven earned runs, six hits and four walks with four home runs in his first two appearances, totaling 1 1/3 innings. In his third game, on Saturday, he opened the fourth by walking first batter Luis Barrera and Skye Bolt added a double. Doolittle battled well from there, escaping with only a sacrifice fly to score a run while striking out two.

“I’m much happier with that outing,” Doolittle said. “Leadoff walk, never good. You’re kind of opening up Pandora’s box messing around with the leadoff hitter like that. Just overall in general, I was really happy with the way the ball was coming out of my hand tonight. I think the changes I’ve worked so hard on in the offseason, it’s taken me a little bit to implement those in games and it’s been a process. It’s been frustrating. It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster ride here.

“But everything we’ve been doing behind the scenes, on the back fields and in the bullpen has gone really well. That hasn’t transferred into results in games. But tonight, I really started to feel those things I was working on and it was a big step forward, for sure.”

Doolittle has been working on his process and tempo while also trying to add more fastball velocity. He said he received positive feedback from catcher Tucker Barnhart.

“I was following Tuck the whole inning and afterwards I came back in the dugout, he said the fastball had a different gear tonight,” Doolittle said. “He said it had a ton of that late life on it and he said once I got into a groove, he wanted to give me a chance to really kind of lock that in and feel good about it. We were getting ahead in counts.”

Meanwhile, the other two candidates -- and -- are playing catch up.

The left-handed Garrett had high hopes of competing to be the closer but has been slowed by a sore left forearm. Garrett threw a bullpen session on Thursday but has yet to face hitters in a game setting.

Sims, a right-hander, came to camp behind the others because he was working his way back from a sore elbow that forced him to shut down for a couple of weeks in January. Sims recently moved his throwing program from flat ground to the bullpen mound.

“We’re confident in Sean Doolittle that he’s going to figure this out and bounce back, and really there’s no concern there,” Bell said. “And the other two guys that you mentioned -- Lucas and Amir -- we’re very confident that they’re going to be ready for the season. That’s the way I’m choosing to look at it now. Obviously, you have to be ready to adapt and adjust if something changes, but we’re still thinking positive. Those three should factor into the back end of our bullpen and also close games.”

Akiyama injures hamstring
Reds center fielder exited Saturday’s game after two innings because of left hamstring tightness. Akiyama, who led off and was 0-for-1, was hurt while trying to beat a groundout to first base. Tyler Naquin replaced Akiyama in center field for the top of the third inning.

Akiyama will be examined on Sunday morning.

“I just spoke with him, he’s already trying to get treatment and trying to get healed up as quick as he can,” Bell said.

Akiyama is 0-for-7 in four games after he missed a week of camp to be with his wife, who was injured when struck by a tree in Cincinnati.

Cuthbert competing for first base
When went on the injured list Wednesday for at least 10 days because he tested positive for COVID-19, the Reds increased the playing time for potential first-base replacements. Of the group competing, non-roster invitee has the most experience at the position, with 455 1/3 innings over 60 big league games -- including 50 starts.

“I feel really good right now. I just came in trying to make the roster, so it’s certainly an opportunity for me,” Cuthbert said on Saturday.

Signed to a Minor League contract in the offseason, Cuthbert came up as a third baseman with the Royals in 2015 and hit 12 homers in 128 games during ’16, when he filled in for an injured Mike Moustakas, now a Cincinnati teammate.

When the 28-year-old Cuthbert signed, it carried added meaning. In Corn Island, Nicaragua, Cuthbert’s father -- Luis -- grew up as a Reds fan.

“In those days it was a really good team,” Cuthbert said. “In Nicaragua, we don’t see a lot of baseball, so everyone used to talk about the Reds. We saw the Reds a couple times, so the Reds were one of his favorite teams.”