In the immediate aftermath of the announcement that Sean Doolittle was headed to the 10-Day Injured List, following a few rough outings in which he gave up 13 hits (five home runs), and 10 earned runs in four innings (22.50 ERA), Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez said once Washington’s closer is back from the IL, he will resume his duties as the team’s closer.
“When he does come back, he’s our closer,” the second-year skipper said. “And I reiterated that to him. He’s our closer. So, but we’ve got to get him right.”
Martinez reiterated that stance to reporters before the start of the Nats’ four-game set with the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday night in PNC Park as well.
“He’s earned the right to be closer,” Martinez said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
“And he’s proved that time and again.”
While he appreciated the show of support, Doolittle said he has to get things right because he was hurting instead of helping the team as he tried to pitch through some issues.
“I mean, that’s awesome to get that vote of confidence from your manager,” [Doolittle] said. “But I have to pitch better if I want to stay in that role. I appreciate him saying that, but the mentality that I’m taking back is we have some really good arms in the back end of this bullpen, and there are a few guys that could slide into that role. ...
“Everything is about winning. And however they want to play it, I’ll be ready for whatever they want me to do when I come back.”
For now, however, the focus for Doolittle and the Nationals is getting the left-hander back to the form he displayed over his first two seasons in D.C., or before the recent stretch of late-game struggles (2.81 ERA, 25 saves in 29 opportunities, .247/.296/.395 line against over his first 49 games and 48 IP this season).
“I’ve been trying to grind it out,” Doolittle said on Monday, “... and there’s a fine line between wanting to pitch through something and help the team and be a part of what we have going on, but you don’t want to do it at the expense of costing the team and further jeopardizing your long-term health, and we thought it was best, and I agreed, to take some time to get myself right and come back almost as a September call-up that’s ready to go to help the team down the stretch.”
Before he can help, however, he has to get right, and the issues were piling up, culminating in his performance last Saturday, when he came on with an 11-8 lead in the ninth and got hit hard, giving up a leadoff home run, a double, a two-run blast, and a solo shot as Milwaukee tied things up, then took the lead in what ended up an extra innings win for the Brewers.
The three home runs Doolittle allowed in that outing were more than he gave up in the all of 2018, and the seven homers he surrendered over his last 10 appearances were more than in any season in his big league career. Clearly, something was wrong.
“At this point, I don’t what came first,” Doolittle said. “I don’t if it was like a fatigue thing that cause the mechanical breakdown, or if the mechanical breakdown made me have to work a little bit harder and then I ended up getting fatigued. I don’t know. But at this point it’s just not right. It’s just not right. I’m not me. I’ve lost a lot of that spin rate and that life on the fastball. The other night [against] Milwaukee, like, guys have rounds of batting practice that won’t go that well. Homer, double, homer, homer, deep fly ball. That’s a good round of five.”
“That’s not me,” he continued. “Everybody knows I’m going to attack the zone with fastballs, and they’re ready to go, and when I’m right I can exploit that aggressiveness. We talked about I can tease them above the zone, I can get them to swing at pitches in off the plate or whatever, because they have to make up their minds so quickly because they don’t see it. Now they’re seeing it, it’s lost a lot of that deception. I think there’s a lot of things I can do from a mechanical standpoint to get my body back into a better position to get that life on the ball back.”