When he was on the mound in 2018, Washington Nationals’ closer Sean Doolittle dominated opposing hitters, putting up a 1.60 ERA, 1.89 FIP, six walks (1.20 BB/9), and 60 Ks (12.00 K/9) in 45 innings pitched, over which he held opposing hitters to a combined .136/.178/.213 line (.033/.171/.033 vs left-handed hitters and .160/.180/.256 vs right-handed hitters).
Doolittle, 32, recorded a career-high 25 saves (in 26 opportunities) and the left-hander led National League relievers in opponents’ on-base percentage (.178 OBP), in opponents’ slugging percentage (.213 SLG), in WHIP (0.60), and in Save% (96.2%), with the 25 saves the seventh-most among NL relievers.
He did, however, miss two months on the Disabled List between July and September after suffering what was eventually diagnosed as “a stress reaction of the second left metatarsal” in his left foot, an injury that frustrated the seven-year veteran, who’d never dealt with that sort of issue before.
“It’s kind of a mixed bag,” Doolittle said when asked for his thoughts on the season overall this past weekend.
“I’m really happy with how I pitched when I was healthy, but going into the season, like my biggest goal was to pitch a full season, and I didn’t get to do that again, and this was I think really the first time that I had an extended stay [on the DL] for something that wasn’t an arm issue. So like in a way that was good, but it, in a way it also made it more frustrating that I couldn’t be out there because of something that was really random and I don’t know really why it cropped up in the first place.
“Like I said, I was happy with how I pitched,” Doolittle continued, “but I still feel like I didn’t accomplish everything I wanted to accomplish because I wasn’t able to stay healthy for the full season.”
Doolittle returned to the mound late in the season, finishing up with a month of September which saw him put up a 2.35 ERA, a 1.47 FIP, three walks (3.52 BB/9), 11 Ks (12.91 K/9), and a .143/.226/.179 line against in 7 2⁄3 IP, and after the season ended, the Nationals exercised an option which will pay the southpaw $6M in 2019.
He told reporters last weekend that he’s healthy now and thinks the issue with his foot is finally completely behind him.
“It’s been full-go,” Doolittle said, “and it’s been going really well. It’s been kind of business as usual, so I’ve been really happy with how my foot and the rest of my body has been feeling.”
What, if anything, is the lefty doing so he can make sure the issue doesn’t crop up again?
“We’ve done some small stuff,” Doolittle explained, “like some inserts in my shoe like to put my foot in just a better, neutral position, and done some foot exercises and working on ankle mobility and learning a lot about like all of the different bones in your foot and how your arch works, and it probably explains why I’ve had some knee issues in my previous career as a position player, why I had some knee issues dealing with kind of not having great feet.
“So I don’t know, I’ve learned a lot about it, and I have a little bit more maintenance stuff to do, but it’s been feeling really good.”
He’s also happy with what he’s seen the front office in D.C. doing to build the roster for 2019 with additions to the bullpen (Kyle Barraclough and Trevor Rosenthal) behind the plate (Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes) and in the rotation (Patrick Corbin).
Doolittle talked about the signing of Corbin (to what is reportedly a 6-year/$140M deal) in an MLB Network Radio interview yesterday.
“I thought we had a pretty darn good rotation even before his addition,” he told hosts Ryan Spilborghs and Jensen Lewis.
“I think any time you’re starting a rotation with [Stephen] Strasburg, [Max] Scherzer, and even Tanner Roark — I think he kind of flies under the radar a little bit — now you’re adding Corbin to that mix and that’s really exciting to think about.”
The bullpen additions, Doolittle said, give the Nationals some hard-throwing options for the late innings to go along with the relievers who are returning to the bullpen.
“I think really you can’t have too many weapons or late inning options,” the Nats ‘closer said, “even with how specialized the game is getting, with how willing managers are now to go to their bullpens it seems earlier and earlier because of the specialty and the weapons they have in their bullpen, you can’t have enough pieces. I think last year one of the silver linings was that we did develop some guys that maybe got pressed into service slightly ahead of schedule.
“Wander Suero came up and did an unbelievable job for us out of the bullpen, providing a lot of versatility, being able to pitch in several different roles. I think Matt Grace had a really good year last year. He can be a big piece for us as the lefty guy out of the bullpen.
“Rosenthal and Barraclough, two guys with huge stuff, you look at their strikeout numbers that jump off the page and they have so much experience pitching in high-leverage situations, Rosenthal you mentioned being a closer for a long time in St. Louis, so I met Rosenthal last weekend, we were in D.C. for our fanfest, and he seems like an awesome guy and I’m super-excited to share a bullpen with him.”
Doolittle, and likely the rest of the team, are just eager to get going in 2019 and put the ‘18 season behind them.
“Last year it was so frustrating,” he said. “We could never really get things rolling the way that we felt we were capable and we had some injuries. Every team has injuries, but our injuries last year seemed to come kind of in bunches, and they seemed to kind of affect the different units all at the same time.
“We had a couple injuries in the bullpen around the same time, we had a couple injuries to our lineup around the same time, but seeing how aggressive I guess that Mike Rizzo and our front office has been this year, it’s really energizing. I think in some ways the rest of the division, they’ve been making moves as well, and so there’s a lot that’s been going on around our division, and to see our front office go out and continue to make additions, to continue to try to give us a leg up on those other teams and put us in a position to win, it’s really, like I said, it’s exciting, it’s energizing, and it’s been fun to watch.”