Washington Nationals’ closer Sean Doolittle used his first appearance in Grapefruit League action this Spring for some experimentation, and misdirection, focusing on his secondary pitches in the matchup with the New York Mets on Sunday afternoon in Port St. Lucie, FL’s Clover Field.
Doolittle got up 0-2 on Luis Guillorme with 90-91 MPH fastballs, then dropped a breaking ball in over the the left-handed hitter’s hands for a called strike three and out No. 1 of the fourth inning.
The left-handed reliever missed with the first-pitch breaking ball he threw to Jarrett Parker, got a swinging strike with a fastball inside, went to another slider that missed, 2-1, but got strike two with a 90 MPH heater, and got a called third strike with a high fastball.
Andrés Giménez missed swinging at a 90 MPH first-pitch fastball, spit on a fastball inside, 1-1, and one in the dirt, 2-1, flinched on a high fastball that missed, before fouling one off, 3-2, and then hit one out to center where it fell in for a hit and bounced off left fielder JB Shuck’s glove. Giménez was caught stealing in the next at bat, for out No. 3 of what ended up being a 16-pitch frame for the Nationals’ left-handed closer.
Doolittle talked afterwards about mixing things up against a team that he’s likely to see in a few weeks, when the Nationals open the regular season with three games against the Mets in Citi Field.
“If it’s a guy I’m going to face I’m probably going to show him a bunch of different stuff that I might not do during the season just to see it how it actually plays, to keep him from seeing my fastball three or four times,” Doolittle explained, as quoted by MASN’s Pete Kerzel after a 3-1 loss to the Nationals’ divisional rivals.
“But also to maybe plant the seed in the back of his mind or in the scouting report that I’ll throw some secondary pitches a little more frequently if I need to. It’s more for me than anything else because as a reliever we tend to pitch a little more to our strengths. So you really want to have what you’re good at dialed in.”
Doolittle’s manager, Davey Martinez, said that he wants to see his closer get his high fastball dialed in for the regular season, since it’s his best weapon.
“He’s at a point now in his career that he wants to utilize two, maybe three pitches,” Martinez said.
“He understands that, but my biggest thing with him is the elevated fastball, he’s got to have command of that, and get it up there. When he does that, he’s really good.”
Doolittle said he was surprised he was able to generate the swings and misses he did with his fastball, especially in his first outing of the Spring.
“It usually takes weeks in camp to get swings and misses off my fastball,” Doolittle said, “... so I’m hoping a lot of the work I did this offseason is translating and I feel like I’m in a better tempo and a better position mechanically.”
Martinez said he liked what he saw from Doolittle on the mound. “He was good,” Martinez said.
“Fastball had a little zip. I kinda liked it. He also threw a couple of sliders. He understands he wants to mix some of those sliders in this year. I thought he threw the ball real well.”
Doolittle said he was pleased with the outing overall, and happy to see how his stuff played as he progresses towards the start of the regular season.
Facing hitters from another team for the first time, the closer said, gets adrenaline flowing a little more than bullpen sessions and live BP against teammates.
“It makes a pretty big difference,” Doolittle said. “It’s just kind of the next step in the natural progression, and for me, so much of it is about the energy and adrenaline increases a little bit more each time. You go from throwing bullpens in the offseason, kind of by yourself, to throwing bullpens with — the brass is all watching you in Spring Training, and then you go and you’re facing hitters, and each time that adrenaline comes up another notch or so, and then finally you start working into games, so to have it go well, to feel like I was able to kind of manage everything and be in control, and repeat, pretty consistently, for March 1st I was pretty happy with it.”