A's slugger-turned-pitcher makes it to majors
Sean Doolittle fired all fastballs in his 21-pitch major league debut. Exactly as catcher Kurt Suzuki called them.
Just more than nine months after throwing his first pitch as a professional and two months after beginning the season in Class-A ball, the former slugging first baseman made his major league debut as a left-handed reliever with the Oakland Athletics in a 6-3 loss to the Texas Rangers on Tuesday night.
And what an outing he delivered.
Doolittle relieved starter Travis Blackley (0-1) and struck out the first three batters he faced, including Nelson Cruz on a 96 mph fastball to finish the fifth before an impressive 1-2-3 sixth. He threw 13 of his 21 pitches for strikes.
''It was really surreal. Still kind of sinking in to be honest,'' Doolittle said. ''I was so focused on controlling my breathing and trying to calm myself down that it didn't really let me get too worked up about the situation I was coming into or the guys that I was going to face.''
The A's got a two-run homer from Collin Cowgill and a solo drive from Yoenis Cespedes in the loss.
Doolittle started to throw bullpen sessions last summer to distract him from the frustration of another injury that derailed a once-promising career as a power-hitting first baseman. He never believed the position change would go this smoothly.
Doolittle was called up from Triple-A Sacramento on Monday to replace the injured Jordan Norberto, completing a remarkable run that started off almost as an accident.
Even he thought the transition back to pitching would be ''more of a process.''
''Never in a million years would I think having two months under my belt pitching that I'd be here,'' Doolittle said.
He certainly earned some respect in his first appearance.
''It was just one night tonight, but you can just see the stuff there and the future,'' Suzuki said. ''You love how he just attacks the strike zone and throws the fastball in there. I like it.''
Doolittle, a star pitcher and slugger at Virginia, was drafted 41st overall by the A's in 2007 and seemed destined for the big leagues after batting .286 with 22 homers and 91 RBIs in his first full season as a pro in 2008 at Class-A Stockton and Double-A Midland.
Two knee operations derailed his career, limiting Doolittle to 28 games in 2009 and no games at all the following season. Just when he was ready to make a comeback last summer, he developed a tendon problem in his right wrist.
As a way to take his mind off the frustration of injuries, the left-handed Doolittle started throwing in the bullpen and the A's quickly gave him permission to resume a pitching career.
''I thought it was terrific,'' manager Bob Melvin said after the game. ''He went right after them, didn't look like he had any trepidation about what he was doing. Threw a ton of fastballs, located them with velocity. Pretty impressive for his first time.''
Doolittle was initially drafted out of high school as a pitcher by Atlanta but went to Virginia, where he excelled on the mound and at the plate. He went 22-7 with a 2.23 ERA with 243 strikeouts in 220 1-3 innings in a three-year career at Virginia, but was drafted as a first baseman by the A's.
When he started throwing last summer, it was almost as if he had never stopped and he was soon hitting 97 mph on the radar gun.
''I realized that a lot of the stuff came back pretty quickly as far as a mechanical standpoint and being able to locate my fastball,'' he said. ''It came back a lot quicker than I thought it would.''
Doolittle made his pro pitching debut in the Arizona Rookie League on Aug. 29 and then impressed the team enough in instructional league to get a chance to pitch this spring.
He made the most of his opportunity, posting a 0.72 ERA in 16 relief appearances at Stockton, Midland and Triple-A Sacramento. He allowed just eight hits in 25 innings for a .091 opponents' batting average, proving to be equally tough against righties and lefties. He gave up no homers, struck out 48 batters and walked just seven. He got promoted to Midland on April 26, Sacramento on May 27 and then the majors a week later.
''Even if he was just a pitcher and hadn't pitched above Single A and now all of a sudden he's in the big leagues, it's a good story,'' Melvin said. ''Based on the fact he was a position player in this organization and now he's made his way to the big leagues so quickly, I don't recall ever hearing about a guy switching positions and making it to the big leagues so quickly. That's a credit to him and his perseverance in this game.''
The latest promotion came as such a surprise to Doolittle that he almost slept through it. After River Cats manager Darren Bush was unable to reach Doolittle on the phone Monday morning, roommate A.J. Griffin woke him up to tell him to wait for a call.
That's when he finally got the news that would have seemed so unlikely a year ago.
''It really hasn't sunk in yet,'' Doolittle said. ''Probably the most surprising part about it is how long I lasted in Stockton and then Midland and then only being in Sacramento a week or so is wild.''
It's no surprise to anyone who has seen him pitch this year.
A's lefty Dallas Braden said the rest of the American League will soon learn what the A's did watching him dominate this spring and in the minors.
''He's striking everybody out,'' Braden said. ''He knows what he can do. His approach is, `I'm not messing around. I'm throwing strikes. I'm getting you out of there. I have business to handle.' He's not trying to learn how to pitch. This was a guy who was a closer in college, he pitches in college, pitched well in college. The plan is not lost on him how to get outs. Now he's just doing it at a ridiculous clip and he'll be doing it in the big leagues.''
AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley contributed to this story.