Before Monday’s series opener with the Cincinnati Reds in the nation’s capital, Nationals’ closer Sean Doolittle had “finished” more games than any reliever in the National League, with 47 on the season, (seven more than his previous career high, set back in 2014, when Doolittle finished 40) and he was third in the NL in saves (26).
Doolittle also pitched in four games in the previous six days, including his six-hit, four-run, blown save/loss on Friday night in New York, though he bounced back from that outing in Sunday’s series finale, throwing a scoreless frame.
Called upon to pitch again in the ninth inning of a 7-4 game on Monday, in the first of three with the Reds in D.C., however, the 32-year-old closer struggled again, giving up a leadoff home run on a center-cut first-pitch fastball to Phillip Ervin, 7-5, a single by José Peraza, and two-out RBI double to left by Joey Votto, 7-6, before he walked Eugenio Suárez to load the bases, (and avoid Suárez’s bat), and then got out No. 3 on a pop to third by Josh VanMeter.
Mental note: Avoid this part of the zone... pic.twitter.com/WWwJWDAd9T— federalbaseball (@federalbaseball) August 13, 2019
Doolittle threw 24 pitches, 17 for strikes, with 20 of 24 fastballs, which sat around 94 and hit 95. It wasn’t a clean one, but it was a save. No. 27 of 2019.
“He’s throwing his fastball, his velo was 94,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez said after the win.
“Ervin, he crushes lefties, we knew that, but you want your best out there, and Doo is our closer, so I told him today, ‘Hey, all we need is to hold down the fort and he did that.”
“Man, the whole inning was tough,” Doolittle said. “I mean, that’s five of seven in the middle of August in the first season where I’m still going. I haven’t put together a season like this in a while.
“I’m starting to feel it a little bit, and these are the nights where you’ve got to dig deep and grind it out. Thank goodness we had a three-run lead.”
He threw nine pitches to Iglesias before giving up the second hit. He got a two-out, two-strike foul from Votto that went into and out of catcher Kurt Suzuki’s mitt. And he got the job done in the end...
“I thought I made some good pitches to Iglesias, he put together a really good at bat, and snuck one over [Matt Adams’] glove there, the ball Votto foul tipped into ‘Zuk’s glove, man, that happened in like slow motion, he was juggling it, oh man, and he almost caught it, he almost made an incredible play, so you know, I made some good pitches there, and Votto — he’s really good — I felt like I had the velo on my fastball, maybe not the life and deception that I normally have, but you know, we got the win, I got the save, we’ll go back to the drawing board and figure some stuff out.”
His manager was asked if he’d figured out or thought about, a way, with a number of new relievers on the roster now with closing experience, to avoid having to turn to Doolittle as often as he has this season.
“If Doo needs a day, he’ll get a day, and then we go somewhere else,” Martinez said.
“If Doo is available, Doo is our closer. I’ve got all the confidence in the world in him. We talked about this, people were talking about this in the New York series, guess what? He came in Sunday and did a great job, came in today and held down the fort, so I’m proud of Doo. I’m sure he’s been through this before, and to me it’s no big deal, but he’s our closer.”
Martinez also noted that the Nationals were up 7-2 after seven, and if they hadn’t given up two in the eighth, they wouldn’t have needed to turn to their closer at all.
“Absolutely. I mean, we’re up five going into the eighth, so if I can get [Tanner] Rainey through [the eighth] and then use [Fernando] Rodney, then we save Doo.
“Rainey gave up two, so you know, we’re up three, so Doo is in the game.”
And in the end he got it done... though, results, process, etc.
“I really think he’s throwing the ball well. Look, he’s facing Votto, he faced that Ervin kid, Iglesias is no easy out.
“But he got the outs that we needed and he was able to save the game.”