OAKLAND — As Sean Doolittle stood in front of his locker in the narrow and overcrowded Coliseum clubhouse, he blurted out laughing.
The veteran reliever and longest-tenured Oakland Athletic had also noticed the trend. Every time the team has returned home from an extended road stretch during the 2016 season, something strange happens.
Suddenly, there’s a face — oftentimes faces — who are completely new to the room.
Fresh off a more than two-month stint on the disabled list, Doolittle had to admit that not even he recognized everybody in the clubhouse.
“It’s business as usual around here,” said Doolittle, wearing a bright yellow snap-back and his bushy red beard. “Things are — I feel like — maybe a little bit more fluid here in this organization than in some other ones.”
Doolittle is one of 12 players left from the original 25-man roster. When advised of that fact, the lefty once again chuckled.
“It’s a little — I don’t know — it kind of is what it is when you’re going through a stretch of a couple of years like we are this year and last year,” Doolittle said. “The organization wants to kind of turn the page.”
Between the DL stints, the trades, the ever-changing roster and all the losses, the season is wearing on manager Bob Melvin.
“That’s not a lot is it?” Melvin deadpanned when informed that Doolittle was one of the dozen opening day survivors.
“We’ve had some turnover here. We will do that — maybe a little bit — quite a bit here in the last couple of years,” Melvin said. “Now, injury plays a part in that too — where we started the year and where we are now — but [you’re] always trying to tinker to make the best team that you possibly can.”
The A’s have been putting players on the DL at a historic rate. The club has used the DL 27 times — the most since the franchise moved to Oakland.
The injuries have hit the rotation especially hard as Kendall Graveman is the lone remaining member of the initial starting five. The makeshift bunch, which includes 12 names, has thrown the fewest innings in the American League and run up the second-highest ERA.
While injuries have figured prominently into the endless roster churn, the impact of trades can’t be understated. Six players from the opening day 25-man roster are now playing for new clubs. All those deals have gutted the A’s outfield depth.
Of the five outfielders who began the season in Oakland, only Khris Davis remains. Billy Burns is a Kansas City Royal. Chris Coghlan is a Chicago Cub. Coco Crisp is a Cleveland Indian. And Josh Reddick is a Los Angeles Dodger.
With so much chaos on the roster, there has been plenty of opportunity for the young A’s.
“When you’re in a position where we are right now, it’s about also finding out about guys that are potentially going to be part of your future,” Melvin said.
For the manager, that’s the only way left to spin this lost season.
“That’s the part I enjoy the most about this,” Melvin said. “I certainly don’t like the fact that that’s what we have to do — based on where we are record-wise.”
Joey Wendle, who occupies a stall in the temporary island of lockers that pops up in the center of the clubhouse every September when the roster swells, is one of those young guys.
He’s also one of those players who Doolittle might not have recognized if they were sitting across from each other on BART a week ago.
“Everybody on this team has been really encouraging and really welcoming to me,” said Wendle, who at 26 is getting his first major league taste.
It helps that Wendle knows most of his young teammates from previous stints with the Nashville Sounds and Midland Rockhounds.
“[It’s] definitely good to have some familiar faces around. [There are] some younger guys who I can go ask questions and they won’t think it’s a dumb question,” Wendle said before adding — with a laugh: “Whereas some of the older guys might.”