To say Sean Doolittle was on fire coming into this game would be a massive understatement, even after giving up an earned run yesterday (breaking a streak of 24 straight scoreless outings) and picking up his first blown save since mid-April against the Marlins (in a game the A’s would end up winning 7-6). The guy still had a 2.08 ERA and a superhuman strikeout-to-walk ratio of 56:1 — that’s right, just one walk in 39 innings.
Here’s the last you thing expected to see him do with a three-run lead: load the bases on back-to-back hits and a walk … then hang a slider to Rajai Davis. Davis is by no means a power hitter, and he got lost in the moment created by his walk-off grand slam and almost missed first base, but his drive cleared the left field wall at Comerica. Davis got to jump onto home plate with both feet while the rest of the Tigers surrounded him, everyone celebrating a 5-4 victory over the team with baseball’s best record.
A shaky Doolittle spoiled what was another strong performance by this A’s club, which seemed poised to win its fifth game in a row and the first of a pivotal three-game series against the Tigers, the team that knocked the Athletics out of the postseason in each of the past two seasons.
Until Doolittle came in, the pitching held its own once again. Scott Kazmir left the game in the sixth inning after cramping up, but managed to allow just one run on four hits. Dan Otero went 1.2 perfect innings and Luke Gregerson pitched a scoreless eighth.
The ninth inning debacle also wiped out an impressive eighth inning performance by the A’s offense, which scored three times to jump ahead 4-1. Yoenis Cespedes reached first on a routine ground ball after shortstop Eugenio Suarez airmailed his throw to first. Brandon Moss doubled in Cespedes to knock Anibal Sanchez out of the game. The A’s scored twice more against reliever Joba Chamberlain, who loaded the bases and gave up a two-run single to Jed Lowrie. This half-inning displayed exactly why the A’s are so dangerous – they capitalize on mistakes, especially a gift of a leadoff baserunner.
— Why is Doolittle struggling all of a sudden? Maybe it’s because teams are becoming aware that the fastball is his go-to pitch a majority of the time. Of the 17 pitches he threw in the ninth, 13 were fastballs. Sure, all of them were 95 miles per hour or above, but the Tigers seemingly had no problem hitting what they knew was coming.
The leadoff hitter, Nick Castellanos, hit an infield single on a 96-mph fastball. Alex Avila followed that up with a solid single to right field on a 95-mph fastball – the first pitch of the at-bat. Doolittle struck out Eugenio Suarez, but then he walked Austin Jackson on nine pitches. Jackson fouled off four consecutive high-velocity fastballs before taking two straight 96-mph pitches out of the zone.
Oh, and Doolittle’s other four pitches? They were breaking balls, and he threw two of them to Davis at 84 mph and 83 mph, respectively. The first was a ball. The second? It hung right down the middle, on a tee. If Doolittle had thrown that same pitch to Miguel Cabrera, the ball still might not have landed. Even Duane Kuiper would’ve had a shot at hitting that pitch high and hitting that pitch deep.
— According to FanGraphs, Doolittle is using his fastball 85.5% of the time this season. 13.6% of his pitches are breaking balls, and his changeup usage is less than 1%. Sure, his fastball might be next to unhittable, and it’s obviously working out very well for him thus far in his career, but what’s preventing a player from starting his swing a little early because he knows he’s almost guaranteed to get a fastball?
If Doolittle continues to depend on his fastball and can’t consistently mix in an off-speed pitch or two, nights such as this one – when teams pick up on his fastball – are bound to happen again.
– When Doolittle walked Jackson and loaded the bases, I thought to myself, “At least the Tigers won’t walk-off” after seeing Davis step up to the plate. Davis was very popular during his three seasons (2008-2010) with the A’s, but he was – and is – known more for his speed and hustle than power. In fact, he had just 11 homers in three seasons in Oakland, so I put his chances of hitting a grand slam and walking it off at about 0.1%.
Unfortunately for Doolittle, even Davis can park a slider that fat.