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A's lefty Doolittle refines his slider

The SportsXchange

PHOENIX -- Sean Doolittle figures to be even better in 2014.

The converted first baseman is among baseball's top young left-handed relievers, and he was Oakland Athletics' projected closer for this season until the team acquired Jim Johnson from the Baltimore Orioles. Over the winter, Doolittle added a slider and a changeup to go with his wicked mid-90s fastball.

Doolittle became something of a one-pitch pitcher during his season-plus in the big leagues. He tried to mix in a curveball much of his rookie year in 2012, and then he turned it into a slurve in 2013. Neither was all that effective, and when attending the annual baseball banquet at the University of Virginia, Doolittle worked a bit with his former coach, Karl Kuhn.

Kuhn asked Doolittle to try his college slider while slightly changing pressure with his fingers.

Voila. Doolittle has a workable slider that he is using with good results so far this spring. Doolittle also improved his changeup a great deal.

"He's taken it to a different level with the slider and the changeup," manager Bob Melvin said. "He potentially could be a three-pitch guy."

Doolittle is back to his setup role with the addition of Johnson. Right-handers Luke Gregerson, Dan Otero and Ryan Cook are also setup options, though Cook might be iffy for the Opening Day roster due to a shoulder injury.

Tommy Milone, trying to work his way back into Oakland's rotation, is another A's left-hander who add a pitch: He is incorporating a two-seam fastball this spring. He threw the pitch a few times after coming back up last September and liked the way it worked. Now he has to hone it a bit.

NOTES, QUOTES

--OF Craig Gentry, the Athletics' new backup outfielder, was declared out for an additional week and a half. Gentry was expected to miss only a few days after incurring a lower back strain the first week of camp. Manager Bob Melvin said Gentry is still expected to be ready for the start of the season.

--RHP Ryan Cook (right shoulder tightness) is considered questionable for the Opening Day roster, according to manager Bob Melvin. Cook is scheduled to throw his first bullpen session of the spring on March 6, and he wouldn't appear in a spring game for at least a week or so after that.

--INF Andy Parrino was claimed off waivers by Texas from Oakland on March 3. The A's designated the minor league shortstop for assignment when they acquired INF Jake Elmore last week. Parrino, 28, played in 14 games with the Athletics last season and batted just .118. In 108 games with Triple-A Sacramento, he had a .210 batting average and four home runs.

--INF Jake Elmore was acquired by the A's from the White Sox in a cash deal on Feb. 27. Elmore, 26, fits Oakland's versatility mode -- he played every position, including catcher and pitcher, for Houston last year. He has two options left and is unlikely to be an immediate big-league option for Oakland.

--OF Billy Burns, acquired from the Nationals for LHP Jerry Blevins in December, is making a good impression in camp. The switch-hitting speedster is not known for having a good arm, but he threw out two runners in a game on March 2 and he hit .313 with five steals in his first six spring games. Burns is a strong candidate to be a September call-up, but he could be an option sooner in the event of injury.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Hope that never happens again. I have a feeling my zero ERA would inflate." -- Newly acquired INF Jake Elmore, on his 11-pitch inning for the Houston Astros last season.

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