Sean Doolittle is nothing if not a straight shooter, so when he’s disappointed in himself there’s no hiding it.
Right now the Oakland A’s reliever is navigating through some rough terrain. The latest example was Saturday’s 7-6 loss to the Houston Astros, when Doolittle entered a tie game in the bottom of the eighth and faced four batters, giving up four hits as the Astros snapped a 3-3 tie and notched their first win against the A’s this season.
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Doolittle was charged with four earned runs – two scored after Luke Gregerson relieved him – and obviously was steamed at himself afterward.
“Right now, after going back and looking at film, I don’t have a lot of answers,” Doolittle told reporters after the game. “I just couldn’t get anybody out. … If you want to be a guy that’s counted on repeatedly in those situations, you have to figure out how to get it done.”
Over his past five outings, the lefty has surrendered nine hits and seven earned runs in four innings for a 15.75 ERA over that stretch. Four of those five outings have come since it was announced April 18 that he agreed to a five-year contract extension that reportedly could be worth close to $30 million if several incentives are met and options exercised.
The easy conclusion to jump to is that the attention surrounding his long-term deal might be affecting him some. Perhaps there’s some truth to that, perhaps not. It’s worth noting that Doolittle showed some vulnerability in a couple outings before the deal was even announced. And since the contract announcement, two of his four outings have been solid.
But his inconsistency is just one piece of the overall picture for an Oakland bullpen that hasn’t been as lock-down of a unit as anticipated. Though the A’s relief corps carries an American League-low 2.67 ERA, it also entered Saturday tied for the major league lead with six blown saves. And as we saw in Saturday’s defeat, the struggles aren’t contained to the ninth inning when the A’s are trying to protect a lead.
It’s been an unsettled situation in the ‘pen without a regular closer who is consistently getting the job done in the ninth. Doolittle and Gregerson, pegged to be setup men for Jim Johnson, have been used for save situations since Johnson was removed from the closer’s role. That has shuffled everyone’s roles around. And though the relievers aren’t using it as an excuse, it stands to reason that the uncertainty presents a challenge.
If Johnson eventually regains the closer’s role and flourishes, perhaps things fall in line behind him.
As for Doolittle, surely he’s still feeling his way through this rough stint. You gotta remember that the lefty didn’t make the conversion from first baseman to pitcher until part way through the 2011 season. Not only is he still working on getting a feel for his secondary pitches, he’s still learning how to identify his problems on the mound and correct them.
“He’s one of the best relievers in the game, and tonight didn’t change anything,” A’s starting pitcher Dan Straily told reporters.
But it’s clear that Doolittle is still a work in progress this season, something that could be said for Oakland’s entire bullpen.