PHOENIX -- Sean Doolittle figures to be even better in 2014.
The converted first baseman is among baseball's top young left-handed relievers, and he was Oakland Athletics' projected closer for this season until the team acquired Jim Johnson from the Baltimore Orioles. Over the winter, Doolittle added a slider and a changeup to go with his wicked mid-90s fastball.
Doolittle became something of a one-pitch pitcher during his season-plus in the big leagues. He tried to mix in a curveball much of his rookie year in 2012, and then he turned it into a slurve in 2013. Neither was all that effective, and when attending the annual baseball banquet at the University of Virginia, Doolittle worked a bit with his former coach, Karl Kuhn.
Kuhn asked Doolittle to try his college slider while slightly changing pressure with his fingers.
Voila. Doolittle has a workable slider that he is using with good results so far this spring. Doolittle also improved his changeup a great deal.
"He's taken it to a different level with the slider and the changeup," manager Bob Melvin said. "He potentially could be a three-pitch guy."
Doolittle is back to his setup role with the addition of Johnson. Right-handers Luke Gregerson, Dan Otero and Ryan Cook are also setup options, though Cook might be iffy for the Opening Day roster due to a shoulder injury.
Tommy Milone, trying to work his way back into Oakland's rotation, is another A's left-hander who add a pitch: He is incorporating a two-seam fastball this spring. He threw the pitch a few times after coming back up last September and liked the way it worked. Now he has to hone it a bit.
--OF Craig Gentry, the Athletics' new backup outfielder, was declared out for an additional week and a half. Gentry was expected to miss only a few days after incurring a lower back strain the first week of camp. Manager Bob Melvin said Gentry is still expected to be ready for the start of the season.
--RHP Ryan Cook (right shoulder tightness) is considered questionable for the Opening Day roster, according to manager Bob Melvin. Cook is scheduled to throw his first bullpen session of the spring on March 6, and he wouldn't appear in a spring game for at least a week or so after that.
--INF Andy Parrino was claimed off waivers by Texas from Oakland on March 3. The A's designated the minor league shortstop for assignment when they acquired INF Jake Elmore last week. Parrino, 28, played in 14 games with the Athletics last season and batted just .118. In 108 games with Triple-A Sacramento, he had a .210 batting average and four home runs.
--INF Jake Elmore was acquired by the A's from the White Sox in a cash deal on Feb. 27. Elmore, 26, fits Oakland's versatility mode -- he played every position, including catcher and pitcher, for Houston last year. He has two options left and is unlikely to be an immediate big-league option for Oakland.
--OF Billy Burns, acquired from the Nationals for LHP Jerry Blevins in December, is making a good impression in camp. The switch-hitting speedster is not known for having a good arm, but he threw out two runners in a game on March 2 and he hit .313 with five steals in his first six spring games. Burns is a strong candidate to be a September call-up, but he could be an option sooner in the event of injury.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Hope that never happens again. I have a feeling my zero ERA would inflate." -- Newly acquired INF Jake Elmore, on his 11-pitch inning for the Houston Astros last season.
RHP Jarrod Parker
RHP Sonny Gray
LHP Scott Kazmir
RHP A.J. Griffin
RHP Dan Straily
Kazmir, a free-agent pickup, probably slots into the middle of the rotation, as the only projected left-hander -- although if anyone were to falter, lefty Tommy Milone, part of the staff each of the past two seasons, would be the next candidate to start. Finishing strong was an issue for some of the A's young starters last year, which is why an even deeper bullpen should be a plus for the rotation. There won't be many complete games from this group, if any -- and going just five or six innings might be the norm.
RHP Jim Johnson (closer)
RHP Luke Gregerson
LHP Sean Doolittle
RHP Ryan Cook
RHP Dan Otero
LHP Fernando Abad
RHP Jesse Chavez
Johnson, the A's new closer, is the major league saves leader the past two years, with 101 -- the reason Oakland was willing to trade for Johnson and then pay him $10 million. The A's have five relievers capable of finishing games -- and lefty Eric O'Flaherty is expected to be able to join the team around midseason after having Tommy John surgery last year. The bullpen is among the best in baseball, and might be one of the best ever given the overall talent level and the presence of so many potential closer-types. The depth should prevent any one or two key relievers from being overworked, preventing the sort of fatigue that hit Cook and then-closer Grant Balfour toward the end of last season.
1. CF Coco Crisp
2. SS Jed Lowrie
3. 3B Josh Donaldson
4. 1B Brandon Moss
5. LF Yoenis Cespedes
6. DH John Jaso
7. C Derek Norris
8. RF Josh Reddick
9. 2B Eric Sogard
The A's liberal use of platoons means there will be no set lineup, and no set DH. New fourth outfielder Craig Gentry will get plenty of playing time, especially against left-handed pitchers, as will infielders Alberto Callaspo (who could play some at first base) and Nick Punto. It will be tough for 1B Nate Freiman and C Stephen Vogt to crack the Opening Day roster because both have options left. Sam Fuld and Michael Taylor will compete for the fifth outfield spot (if there is one) and Daric Barton will vie for a spot in the infield.
TOP ROOKIES: Addison Russell, 20, will be one of the most closely watched players in any camp this spring. The A's won't rush their top prospect, but no one will be surprised if the shortstop is up at some point this season after a strong Arizona Fall League. RHP Arnold Leon, 25, has pitched in relief and as a starter in the minors, and he will get a long look during the spring in case there is a need during the season. He issued just 24 walks in 25 games, including 24 starts, in Double-A and Triple-A last year.
--RHP Ryan Cook (right shoulder tightness) is no longer considered a lock for the Opening Day roster. He won't throw his first bullpen session until a week into the Cactus League season.
--OF Craig Gentry (lower back strain) is unlikely to return to Cactus League play before March 10. He is still on track to be on the Opening Day roster, barring setbacks.
--LHP Eric O'Flaherty (Tommy John surgery in May 2013) went on the 60-day disabled list Feb. 17. He was throwing long-toss at the start of spring training, and he is on track to join the A's sometime during midseason.
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- Sean Doolittle
- Craig Gentry
- Oakland Athletics
- Jake Elmore
- Bob Melvin