OAKLAND, Calif. — When Sean Doolittle started to throw bullpen sessions last summer to distract him from the frustration of another injury that derailed a once-promising career as a slugging first baseman, he never believed the transition from slugger to pitcher would go this smoothly.
Just more than nine months after throwing his first pitch as a professional and two months after starting the season in Class-A ball, Doolittle has made it to the majors as a left-handed reliever with the Oakland Athletics.
Doolittle was called up from Triple-A Sacramento on Monday to replace the injured Jordan Norberto, completing a remarkable run that started off almost as an accident.
“I thought it would be more of a process than this,” Doolittle said Monday night, hours after joining the A’s for the first time. “I’m just as surprised as everybody else to be honest that the transition has gone as smoothly as it has. Never in a million years would I think having two months under my belt pitching that I’d be here.”
Doolittle, a star pitcher and slugger at Virginia, was drafted 41st overall by the A’s in 2007 and seemed destined for the big leagues after batting .286 with 22 homers and 91 RBI in his first full season as a pro in 2008 at Class-A Stockton and Double-A Midland.
Two knee operations derailed his career, limiting Doolittle to 28 games in 2009 and no games at all the following season. Just when he was ready to make a comeback last summer, he developed a tendon problem in his right wrist.
As a way to take his mind off the frustration of injuries, the left-handed Doolittle started throwing in the bullpen and the A’s quickly gave him permission to resume a pitching career.
Doolittle initially was drafted out of high school as a pitcher by Atlanta but went to Virginia, where he excelled on the mound and at the plate. He went 22-7 with a 2.23 ERA with 243 strikeouts in 220 1/3 innings in a three-year career at Virginia but was drafted as a first baseman by the A’s.
When he started throwing last summer, it was almost as if he had never stopped and he was soon hitting 97 mph on the radar gun.
“I realized that a lot of the stuff came back pretty quickly as far as a mechanical standpoint and being able to locate my fastball,” he said. “It came back a lot quicker than I thought it would.”
Doolittle made his pro pitching debut in the Arizona Rookie League on Aug. 29 and then impressed the team enough in instructional league to get a chance to pitch this spring.
He made the most of his opportunity, posting a 0.72 ERA in 16 relief appearances at Stockton, Midland and Triple-A Sacramento. He allowed just eight hits in 25 innings for a .091 opponents batting average, proving to be equally tough against righties and lefties. He gave up no homers, struck out 48 and walked just seven. He was promoted to Midland on April 26, Sacramento on May 27 and then the majors a week later.
“Even if he was just a pitcher and hadn’t pitched above Single A and now all of a sudden he’s in the big leagues, it’s a good story,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “Based on the fact he was a position player in this organization and now he’s made his way to the big leagues so quickly, I don’t recall ever hearing about a guy switching positions and making it to the big leagues so quickly. That’s a credit to him and his perseverance in this game.”
The latest promotion came as such a surprise to Doolittle that he almost slept through it. After River Cats manager Darren Bush was unable to reach Doolittle on the phone Monday morning, roommate A.J. Griffin woke him up to tell him to wait for a call.
That’s when he finally got the news that would have seemed so unlikely a year ago.
“It really hasn’t sunk in yet,” Doolittle said.
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