For much of the past three years, Sean Doolittle has had to deal with one major set-back after another. The A's 2007 supplemental first-round draft choice was making strides towards a big league call-up when he injured his knee playing right field for the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats. That knee injury cost him the final four months of the 2009 season and all of the 2010 campaign.
At the start of the 2011 season, it looked as though Doolittle had put most of those knee problems behind him. This May, he was mere days away from being sent out of extended spring training to a full-season A's minor league affiliate when he injured his wrist on a swing. The wrist injury proved serious and he rehabbed the injury for much of the rest of the season.
Frustrated by the lingering wrist pain and by the three years of set-backs, Doolittle approached the A's about making a switch from position player to pitcher. He had been a two-way star at the University of Virginia and many scouts thought Doolittle's best path to the big leagues was on the mound back when he was drafted. He began his journey towards becoming a full-time pitcher during the regular season's final weeks and has continued those efforts during the A's recently completed fall Instructional League.
Thus far the results have been positive. Doolittle's velocity has been clocked regularly in the 91-94 MPH range and he even hit 95 MPH on occasion. He spent much of camp working closely with the A's coaching staff on improving his secondary pitches. He has also been able to work closely with his younger brother Ryan, who is a pitcher in the A's system as well. Most importantly, he finished camp healthy and competing in game action on a regular basis. Doolittle is beginning his first normal off-season since the fall of 2008.
We spoke with Doolittle on Friday about his transition to the mound.
OaklandClubhouse: How is it going with pitching? Are you enjoying it?
Sean Doolittle: Yeah, I love it. It makes such a big difference when you go to the field and you know that you are going to be able to work on something that will get you on the field rather than in the training room.
OC: Do you feel like your pitching is back to where it was when you were at Virginia or are you still working on a few things?
SD: We are working on a few things. Fastball-wise, I would say that I'm pretty close. I never played above 180 pounds in college. I'm bigger and stronger and I feel like that makes it a lot easier for me to repeat my delivery and stuff like that. For now, at least, I have been a one-to-two inning guy. I don't know if that will change in the future, but that makes it a little different than the mindset I had in college.
The off-speed stuff is a little bit of a work-in-progress. But the command is there and I'm throwing strikes.
OC: What secondary pitches are you throwing?
SD: Right now, we are just doing fastball, change-up, slider. The change-up so far has been a little bit ahead of the slider development-wise, but when the slider is there, it's been shown that it can be an effective pitch. We just need to get a little more consistent with it.
OC: In terms of your time as a hitter, do you think that is going to help you as a pitcher, having played in those leagues before?
SD: Absolutely. Just for one thing, knowing what to expect from the different leagues as you go up, but also the mental game within each at-bat so far is something that I feel like I have really been able to use to my advantage. If you are thinking about it as a hitter, it kind of speeds everything up, but pitching I can really think about things a lot more.
OC: I saw you were playing catch with your brother [Ryan Doolittle]. Has it been fun to be pitching on the same staff as him?
SD: It's awesome. Having somebody who I know will be my workout partner and my throwing partner in the off-season is great. We've been able to spend a lot more time together on the field, throwing together and working out together.
I can bounce a lot of things off of him too because he's had a lot of success when he has been healthy. He's a guy that they seem pretty high on. The roles have kind of turned a little bit. I'm now going to him, the younger brother, for advice on stuff, but it's been a lot of fun.
OC: And he's been healthy this off-season?
SD: Yeah, he's been healthy. He's had a very good Instructional League. They've scheduled it so that we have been throwing on the same days so we can watch each other pitch. It's been great.
OaklandClubhouse Video of Sean Doolittle at the A's fall Instructional League