Sean Doolittle's shot at redemption

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Sean Doolittle's shot at redemption

PHOENIX, Ariz--

Sean Doolittle is spring training, in the way fantasists want spring training to be. He is also the Oakland Athletics, in the way they are now always picking themselves up from some fresh disaster, bloodied yet undeterred.

Doolittle is a tale of reinvention, like so many this time of year a supplemental first round pick in 2007 by the As after an exemplary career as a first baseman and pitcher at the University of Virginia, making normal progress toward his career goal until his body snapped back at him with both force and malice.

A knee injury that cost him much of 2009 and all of 2010, then a torn tendon in his right wrist while swinging at a high fastball three days before prepping for his 2011 season in Sacramento, and suddenly his dream was not only deferred, but endangered.
He was rehabilitating the wrist to little effect and feeling more and more like an ex-player even before being a full-fledged player when Oaklands director of player development Keith Lieppmann essentially rehabilitated the parts of him that werent his wrist.

The wrist wasnt coming around, and I was starting to feel like I wasnt a part of anything and that maybe it was never going to happen, and Keith suggested I just start doing some throwing while Im rehabbing.

Doolittle signed on for anything that felt like baseball, and while he kept thinking the other show would drop, it didnt. His left arm got stronger while his right wrist remained stubbornly resistant to persuasion, and before long it occurred to him and Lieppmann that the pitching that made him so desirable a player at UVA might be his ticket out of medical hell and a cubicle future.

So he is in camp again, this time as a left-handed reliever hoping to make a club with a potentially large number of vacancies in his new specialty left-handed long man.

And there is no bat in his locker, for any number of valid temporal and psychological reasons. The bat is not only the instrument of his last and most formative career lurch, but a needless space-taker in a locker that hasnt the room for nostalgia.

They say bad things come in threes, Doolittle said, slightly twisting the analogy, and Ive had mine. So I have a renewed sense if energy and passion for the game after all this. Not being part of it for three years has been tough for me, even to watch the games on television, so Ive had to reinvent myself, and think of everything I have to do in a completely different way.

Indeed, that impatience has forced him to aggressively learn how not to be in a hurry to make up the three years on blocks.

Ive had to reorient my thinking from being a seven- to nine-inning guy to being a one- or two-inning reliever, he said. I have no real idea what to expect that way, so its sort of like my first big league camp again. The one thing I have learned for sure is never to take anything for granted again.

Most reinvention tales dont end well the leap from one calling to the other is typically too large, and stories like Doolittles dont have the desired ending for anyone. But these are the As, a team that is currently in one of its frequent fist-catching stages. The pitching staff is almost a night at the Improv, with anyone with a good story and sufficient arm strength is in the discussion.

But Doolittle has the advantage of being a new old guy in a room full of them. Pitching coach Curt Young is back after a year in the maelstrom of Boston, but manager Bob Melvin is opening his first spring training in Oakland with room in his bullpen to exercise his most creative notions, should he choose to have them.

Perhaps like Doolittle. His chances of making the team are minimal, as he has never pitched in the minor leagues, and between Brian Fuentes, Grant Balfour, Joey Devine, Fautino De Los Santos, Jerry Blevins and Koji Uehara (ifwhen the As get him), the opportunities arent readily evident.

Still a man working on Life Number Four can afford to dream. After all, what could be better for the As in this, their sixth year of transition, than to have a metaphor for their current state of affairs in the clubhouse every day, reminding everyone of who and what they are, and what they could eventually become just by sitting in front of his bat-free locker?

A's notes: Smolinski sidelined by sore right shoulder

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A's notes: Smolinski sidelined by sore right shoulder

MESA, Ariz. — Outfielder Jake Smolinski is dealing with a right shoulder issue that’s keeping him out of games right now.

A’s manager Bob Melvin is hopeful Smolinski might be able to serve as designated hitter soon, but he's having trouble throwing. The issue was bothering Smolinski when he reported to camp.

“It may take a little time,” Melvin said Sunday morning.

Depending on how long Smolinski is sidelined, it could impact his bid to make the club as a fifth outfielder. Khris Davis, Rajai Davis and Matt Joyce are projected as the starting trio, left to right, with Mark Canha likely to platoon with Joyce in right.

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Melvin finds his catching depth thinning out a bit. Matt McBride isn’t able to get behind the plate because of a sore lat muscle, and non-roster catcher Ryan Lavarnway will be leaving soon to join Team Israel for the World Baseball Classic.

That means Sean Murphy, a third-round draft choice last June, will see plenty of time in early exhibitions. Melvin has spoken highly of the strong-armed Murphy so far.

“We’re a little short, so Mr. Murphy is going to get some opportunities for a younger guy,” Melvin said. “It’s a nice little showcase with him to back up some of these games.”

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Ryon Healy will draw his first start of the spring, playing first base, Monday against the Giants in Scottsdale. He’s been nursing a sore quadriceps but ran Sunday and is cleared for Monday.

Waived by Dallas, Deron Williams intends to sign with Cavs

Waived by Dallas, Deron Williams intends to sign with Cavs

CLEVELAND -- Free-agent guard Deron Williams has cleared waivers and told the Cleveland Cavaliers he intends to sign with them.

Williams, a five-time All-Star, was waived this week by Dallas. He will give the defending NBA champions a playmaker they've needed all season and one LeBron James demanded.

Williams cannot sign with the Cavs until Monday. Cleveland hosts the Milwaukee Bucks that night. The Cavs will be the fourth team for Williams, who is averaging 13.1 points this season.

Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue can bring him off the bench and also play him with Cleveland's starters to give James and Kyrie Irving rest before the playoffs.

Cavaliers general manager David Griffin didn't make a move at Thursday's trade deadline, but said the team still needed a playmaker. Williams can also back up Kyrie Irving at point guard, a spot the Cavaliers have been trying to fill since the start of the season.

Griffin's previous acquisitions are a big reason the Cavaliers are 8-1 in February. Kyle Korver is shooting 52 percent from 3-point range since being acquired from Atlanta and has made up for the loss of J.R. Smith, who is out until April with a broken right thumb.

Derrick Williams, who is on a second 10-day contract, is averaging 9.8 points in five games with the Cavaliers.

Cleveland has been also looking to add frontcourt depth since Kevin Love had surgery on his right knee earlier this month. Love, who is averaging 20 points and 11.1 rebounds, said Friday that he plans on being ready for the playoffs.

Free-agent Larry Sanders worked out for the Cavaliers last week and Andrew Bogut is another possibility to join Cleveland. Bogut is expected to have his contract bought out by the Philadelphia 76ers, who acquired him from the Mavericks at the deadline.