When A’s starter Sonny Gray gave up four consecutive hits in the third inning Saturday, manager Bob Melvin said it was shocking.
“You don’t expect Sonny to give up two consecutive hits,’’ the manager said, “much less four.’’
Sean Doolittle could appreciate the moment. It was back on April 26 when the A’s left-handed reliever entered a game in Houston with the A’s and Astros tied at 3-all in the bottom of the eighth.
Single, single, single, single. Just like that Doolittle, who had an ERA at the time of 3.09, just about doubled it to 6.17, giving up four runs without getting anyone out. To make matters worse, the A’s scored three runs in the ninth and had the tying run on base before taking a 7-6 loss.
That game was like a taser to Doolittle’s pitching strategy.
Ever since then, things have been different. He threw two innings Saturday to get the win, retiring all six batters he faced. Since the debacle in Minute Maid Park, Doolittle has allowed three hits and no runs in 7.1 innings, striking out 11.
“I think there may come a time when I can look back at that Houston outing and be able to see it as a turning point for me,’’ Doolittle said. “If teams are going to work to make adjustments to me, then it’s my turn to adjust to them.’’
The left-hander has a high-voltage, occasionally overpowering fastball. But he was throwing it so much, hitters weren’t being surprised by it, even when he reached the plus-85 mph range.
Enter the slider. It’s a pitch he’s had as a weapon, but in Houston and for a couple of games before that, he wasn’t pulling it out of the bag until it was too late. It’s not that he’s throwing more sliders now, it’s that he’s throwing them more selectively, often earlier in the count.
“If they are going to try and jump on the fastball, it’s up to me to change the sequence of pitches,’’ Doolittle said. “I talked to (pitching coach) Curt Young and to our catchers to get their input. It’s not that I’m throwing a lot more sliders, but I’m throwing enough in the right spots to keep them honest.’’
As for Gray’s performance, Doolittle was a little in awe.
“A game like tonight’s shows just how Sonny can be an ace in this league,’’ Doolittle said. “He didn’t have his best stuff, but not only kept us in the game, he wound up with a quality start.
“That was something to watch.’’