Doolittle easing into spring after injury-plagued '16

Doolittle easing into spring after injury-plagued '16

MESA, Ariz. -- A year ago, A's left-hander Sean Doolittle temporarily changed his Twitter handle to "BestShapeOfMyLifeGuy," after proclaiming on the first day of Spring Training that he was, in fact, in the best shape of his life.

Hyperbole or not, it's a common line players throw around excessively upon reporting to camp, and Doolittle at least laughed at himself while using it. This year, though?

"It's not about being in the best shape of your life, it's about peaking at the right time," Doolittle said, smiling. "It's not how you come into Spring Training, it's how you leave Spring Training."

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Doolittle is easing into spring action, after admittedly overextending himself in the early going of camp last year. While several other A's pitchers threw live batting practice for the first time on Monday morning, Doolittle had a bullpen session from flat ground. He expects to resume throwing off the mound by the end of the week.

Soon enough, Doolittle will catch up to his teammates.

"I'm trying to learn from last year," Doolittle said. "Last year, I came in guns blazing. I was so excited to be healthy again for spring that I came in ready to go and might have ramped it up a little bit too much, too soon. I feel great. We're just trying to make sure we don't do what we did last year."

By the middle of March 2016, Doolittle had to take nearly two weeks off from throwing, and he was subsequently rushing to get in enough games ahead of Opening Day. He made 44 appearances during the regular season, which was interrupted by shoulder issues a second consecutive year.

Doolittle escapes the jam

The 30-year-old returned home with a tweaked shoulder program that called for more stabilization exercises.

"I think that might have had something to do with some of the issues I had in the past, where my shoulder gets fatigued and it's not as stable, so some of the other muscles are trying to pick up some of the slack," Doolittle explained.

Doolittle also began throwing earlier than normal -- he started playing catch the first week of November -- to keep his rotator cuff strengthened, aligning himself with a different school of thought; most pitchers don't pick up a ball until December.

"Just like any other muscle you want to keep strong or in shape, you wouldn't take months off and then start from scratch again," Doolittle said. "So I took three weeks off at the end of the season, then did two weeks of shoulder exercises and began playing catch. It was really light, but it was a way to keep it somewhat in shape, so that when it came time to ramp it up in December and January, I wasn't starting from scratch. I was a little bit farther ahead of the game."

Doolittle, who saved 22 games in 2014, could especially benefit from the A's large collection of high-leverage relievers this season, saying, "I think the depth, the way that we can kind of shoulder the load and spread the wealth, it can make things run a little more efficiently, just keep guys a bit fresher and not have to rely on one guy or whoever is hot at the time. I'm excited about the way it's shaping up."

Jane Lee has covered the A's for MLB.com since 2010. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.