Coming off a long season, which culminated in a World Series win, Washington Nationals’ closer Sean Doolittle, who missed time in late August last summer before returning in the final month of the regular season and excelling in the postseason (1.74 ERA, .167/.189/.306 line against over 10 1⁄3 IP), said this week he thinks the additional time which every team in baseball is receiving with things shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic will help everyone come back at close to full strength when they actually start playing again.
“Last year we had the oldest roster in baseball and that’s something that we’re really proud of,” Doolittle told hosts Steve Phillips and Eduardo Pérez, in an interview on SiriusXM’s MLB Network Radio channel earlier this week.
“But the short offseason does present a lot of challenges,” the Nationals’ 33-year-old, eight-year veteran continued, “and that was my first time going through it, obviously, and it just changes everything about your offseason. Because you’re trying to balance giving your body time to recover, [recovering] emotionally from such a high-energy end to your season and hurry up and take three weeks off and relax and then you’ve got to start going again around Thanksgiving.”
After workouts in November, more work and holidays in December, and then a ramp-up in January to get ready for the Spring Training ramp-up in February and March, everything’s been shut down since the middle of last month, adding to the odd nature of the offseason after winning it all.
The positive side of having a veteran roster, Doolittle said, is that everyone knows what it takes for them to get ready once they’re told it’s time to start building up again.
“It was very different the way I think a lot of us went about our offseason workout program,” he explained, “... and I think also being a team with so many veterans on it, guys are going to know their bodies, they’re going to know what they need to do to stay ready or to be able to fire it up relatively quickly whenever we get the green light, and I think coming back after the layoff, everybody will be on a relatively — we’ll just be on a more even playing field.
“Everybody will have had to go through the same challenges and stuff.
“I was joking with some of our guys — we have a text message group of all the bullpen guys on the team, and we said everybody is kind of getting a crash course in what it’s like to be a relief pitcher right now, because sometimes as a relief pitcher you kind of have to get ready and stay ready even though you’re not exactly sure when you’re going to come into a game.
“It’s just kind of the nature of the job — the bullpen phone might ring and say, ‘Hey, just get ready,’ and you say, ‘Well, who do they want me for? What spot am I going in?’ and the answer a lot of times is, ‘They didn’t say. Just get ready and stay ready.’ So that’s what a lot of guys are having to do right now.”
“Our training staff is in constant contact, daily contact, with each and every one of our players,” GM Mike Rizzo said last week when asked what everyone was doing to stay in shape while waiting to see how things will play out.
Coaches are monitoring players’ health, “... in this coronavirus mandated protocol that we have,” Rizzo added.
“Also our trainers, strength, conditioning, pitching coaches, hitting coaches, positional coaches, they’re in constant contact with our players on how they’re doing, where they’re at in their programs, and how they’re progressing in terms of their baseball shape.”
And when it’s time to go, everyone will do whatever they have to do in order to make sure they’re ready for however many games they eventually play, assuming they do.
Getting off to a good start will be especially important in a shortened season, Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez told reporters last month.
A start like last year’s 19-31 mark for the Nationals after the first 50 games will be even more difficult to recover from this time around.
“I think the teams that get off to a fairly quick start are going to benefit from this, so I want these guys to understand that, ‘Hey when this season starts we’ve got to be in like June 1st form, like hey, let’s go, it’s go-time,’ and we’re going to prepare for that.”