On April 18, Oakland Athletics reliever Sean Doolittle was given a new, five-year contract for the 2014 through 2018 seasons, and he's promptly responded to his newfound wealth by losing two games this week -- first against Texas on Monday at home and now tonight against the Houston Astros on the road.
So what happened? On April 21, Doolittle entered a tie game between the Rangers and the A's in the eighth inning, and the lefty promptly gave up a double and a single to allow a run that ended up being a game-winning score for Texas.
Tonight, same situation: entering a 3-3 game in the eighth inning, Doolittle gave up four straight hits without retiring a batter, and the Astros took a 7-3 lead. While Brandon Moss' three-run home run in the ninth gave the A's some hope, in the end, Doolittle took another loss as Oakland lost to Houston for the first time in 2014.
The lefty reliever's ERA now stands at 6.17 for the season, and his problems continue to highlight a major weak spot for the A's this season: a situationally-disappointing bullpen. Before tonight's game, the corps as a whole had collected a 2.25 ERA on the year in 76 innings, good enough for the fourth-best mark in the major leagues.
But with six losses now on the season for the bullpen as a whole, it's the third-worst group in the majors. Not to mention the collective six blown saves, a major-league high. Thus, in the high-leverage innings, the Oakland bullpen in stinking it up, and Doolittle's struggles this week after getting a new contract are the current poster shot for A's cringing.
Dan Straily struggled again with his belt-high, straight fastballs, giving up two more home runs in a typically-bleh outing: six 1/3 innings, with seven strikeouts, but three runs given up. Meanwhile, the A's lineup as a whole went 4-for-10 with runners in scoring position after ripping ten hits on the night: a job well done, overall, thanks to Moss' efforts in the ninth.
Usually when Oakland scores six runs, it will win: in fact, this was the first game in 2014 where the A's scored at least six runs and didn't win the contest, surely something to chew on overnight as Oakland prepares to wrap up this four-game Houston set and move on to Arlington on Monday for three games against the Rangers.
Hopefully, Doolittle will have his mind right again by then, before he finds himself as the most overpaid, underused guy in the bullpen -- a distinction Jim Johnson currently holds, of course.
(Whither Grant Balfour?!)