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Washington Nationals building a better Sean Doolittle for the stretch run or: One night as a LOOGY

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Sean Doolittle is building up again after a rough stretch on the mound that ended only when he went on the Injured List.

Washington Nationals v Atlanta Braves Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images

Davey Martinez turned to Sean Doolittle last night with two out in the bottom of the seventh inning, sending his recovering closer out against Minnesota Twins’ infielder/outfielder Luis Arraez, a left-handed hitting rookie with a solid .276 AVG vs left-handed pitchers this season, who has hit much better against righties (.364 AVG before last night).

Did Doolittle, who’s had to adjust his routine after working predominantly in the ninth over the last few seasons, before this summer’s injury issues forced him to change things up, know that he might be called up in a high-leverage at bat at some point in the late innings?

“We talked about utilizing him from the seventh inning on right now,” Martinez said in his post-game press conference in Target Field, “... so he knew that, and I told him these guys got a lot of lefties, so you’ve got to be ready at any moment. And to me, that was — I could have let [Wander] Suero go out and face him, and all of a sudden now, if he gets a hit off of Suero, then you’ve got [Jorge] Polanco, who’s a switch hitter, so I wanted [Doolittle] to face that lefty.”

Doolittle, who had a .239 AVG against vs left-handers before facing Arraez, and had thrown his four-seamer at an average of around 94 MPH this season, started out at 91-ish MPH, but got up to 92 MPH+ by the end of the at bat, getting a line drive to left field for the third and final out of the inning after Suero gave up a two-out hit.

With a switch-hitter due up next, as Martinez mentioned, it was one and done for Doolittle either way (with right-handers hitting .286 against him so far in 2019).

“It was going to be one batter,” Martinez said. “He got up, we got him in and he was good, and I told him, ‘That’s a big moment, because the top of the order is coming up,’ so I said, ‘You did a great job.’”

It was another step in the right direction for the once and (the Nationals hope) future closer, who’s ramping up to a return to the role, working low-leverage ninth innings in two spots in his first two appearances off a stint on the 10-Day Injured List for right knee tendinitis (and fatigue), and a scoreless eighth with the Nats trailing by a run during the series in Atlanta over the weekend.

“Doolittle threw the ball well, and that’s awesome,” Martinez said after the appearance in SunTrust Park, “... because like I said before, we’re going to need him, and that was a big spot for him and he came in and did well.”

Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo talked on Wednesday morning, before Doolittle’s appearance in the second of three with the Twins, about the process of building the southpaw back up.

“You see him making incremental improvements each and every time out,” Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies.

“His velocity is starting to get back to where we want it to be. He’s had I think three outings since he’s come off the [Injured List], and has pitched a little bit better each and every time he’s come out. I think he feels more comfortable, as you can see he’s kind of tweaked his delivery, going back to his former delivery where he has a little bit of a hesitation at the top of his delivery, so he’s feeling good about himself, which is a good thing for us. His velocity is coming back. He feels great.

“I think his body is refreshed, and so I feel that he’s been getting more and more leverage-type of situations, if you’ve noticed the way that Davey’s been using him, so I think he’s well on his way to being where he wants to be towards the end of the season.”