Sean Doolittle still A’s setup man despite recent struggles

‘Tis been a rough week for A’s left-hander Sean Doolittle. Considered one of the anchors of the Oakland bullpen and the team’s best lefty reliever, Doolittle has been anything but anchor-worthy in his last three relief appearances.

Last Wednesday, against the Giants, Doolittle gave up two earned runs in 1.1 innings. The game by then was already well in hand, and the A’s came away with the W, but Doolittle gave up his first runs in over a month. That would only be the start.

In his next appearance three days later against the White Sox, Doolittle allowed Chicago to overcome a two-run deficit and tie the game in an just inning of work, wasting a brilliant outing by Dan Straily. Doolittle was let off the hook, however, when the A’s won the game with a walk-off walk in extra innings.

And then on Tuesday, in Milwaukee, came the left-hander’s ugliest showing of the season, if for no other reason than he finally cost the A’s a win. Three hits, three runs and the A’s 3-0 lead evaporated before Doolittle could register a single out. The Brewers completed their rally in the bottom of the 10th, giving the A’s just their first loss of the month and second in two weeks.

The past week has been a bewildering reversal of fortunes for Doolittle after yielding just two earned runs all season. Did Jon Heyman put some hex on Doolittle after the Coliseum hater got pwned on Twitter by Doolittle earlier in the week?

It’s a testament to Doolittle’s success that his struggles have become a relevant topic. His 96-mph dancing fastball has made him practically infallible on the mound this season. And lest we forget he was trying to make his bones as a first baseman just a few years ago. He’s still getting better. That’s why people believe he’ll be a closer in the majors sometime in the future.

So, with that kind of promise at play, as well as previous results, Bob Melvin isn’t going to abandon all patience with his setup man and call for a demotion:

“He feels good. We still feel good about him,” said Melvin, adding Doolittle’s velocity is the same. “You constantly look to make adjustments during tough periods, and he will and he has. I’m sticking with him.”

Doolittle has done enough to earn that vote of confidence. He says he’ll be able to throw out of this slump. And based on what he’s shown in the past, there’s no reason to believe he isn’t capable of doing just that. He’s even already made a mechanical adjustment he thinks will solve his troubles:

“I’m flying open just a touch,” said Doolittle, who didn’t pitch in Wednesday’s 6-1 win over the Brewers. “My hips were coming open a little bit too soon, and I think I was showing them the ball a little bit too early and it was taking away some of the life that I have on my fastball, because I wasn’t staying behind it as long. So we did some mechanic work this morning, felt really good throwing, so I feel really confident if I get in there today.

“Any time you can identify the problem, especially to have it be a relatively easy fix, that’s big.”

Players get in funks all the time, but with the A’s steamrolling through their schedule right now, you start to get these Herculean expectations for the club’s best players. Especially for a player who’s been as untouchable as Doolittle has all season.

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