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Washington Nationals’ Sean Doolittle super-frustrated with 2020 debut, but determined

Sean Doolittle told reporters after a tough outing on Sunday that he was already hard at work watching film and trying to get right before his next appearance.

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Sean Doolittle’s velocity was where it should be during his 20-pitch outing in Sunday’s 3-2 loss to the New York Yankees, but the Washington Nationals’ reliever was frustrated with a few things.

Doolittle entered the game with the scored tied at 2-2 in the eighth, walked the first batter he faced, and surrendered one and two-out singles, the second by Gleyber Torres, whose line drive to left brought the leadoff walk around and put the visiting Yankees up for good.

His mechanics were better, his velocity was up to an average of 91.6 on his four-seamer, a few days after some 89-90 readings in an exhibition game raised some concerns, but the results weren’t what the reliever wanted, so he had mixed emotions when he spoke to the press after the game.

“I mean, I have super-mixed emotions about it,” the 33-year-old reliever said.

“I’m super-frustrated with the results. Not being able to put a zero on the board and navigate that inning. That’s really frustrating.”

But...

“That’s the best I’ve felt so far,” Doolittle explained. “I haven’t been feeling very good so far in Summer Camp. But I’ve been really happy with the progress I’ve made specifically over the last three or four days, since that last outing that I had against Baltimore in the exhibition game.

“In some respects, mechanically it was a step forward. My execution and fastball location wasn’t as crisp as I would have liked. Against that [Yankees’] lineup, any lineup, but especially that lineup, you can’t give them a leadoff walk, and that was the run that came around to score, so they’re a really good lineup, really deep, and giving them free 90 ft to start the inning, you’re putting yourself behind the eight ball and kind of opening up Pandora’s box.

“Really frustrating, but I’m trying to stay focused on the process. I’ve made a lot of progress this past week, so I’m going to keep grinding it out.”

“Doo looked good,” his manager, Davey Martinez, said after Sunday’s game.

”[His] velo is back up in the 90s, so that’s encouraging. So, we’ve just got to get these guys out there and consistent now.”

Doolittle indirectly agreed with his manager’s assessment that pitchers need to start getting consistent work as they build up for the 60-game 2020 campaign, following three weeks of ramp-up during Spring Training 2.0, which followed three-plus months off between the end of Spring Training 1.0 in mid-March and the start of the so-called Summer Camp at the start of July.

“The reality is that’s the fourth time I faced hitters,” Doolittle said.

“I know — and what this season is going to come down to is — which team, which pitchers can make the adjustments the quickest, and get into mid-season form essentially quicker than some other teams. There’s definitely a sense of urgency about how we’re going about our business.

“I’m not satisfied with how I’m throwing the ball right now, but I’m moving in the right direction and I feel really close to being able to help this team in the back end of some ballgames.”

As he said, it was super-frustrating to feel better than he has but not have the results work out in his or the Nationals’ favor.

“Mechanically I was better than I was pretty much all of Summer Camp, so I’m excited about that. My velo was up. I was really, really concerned about where I was at from a velocity standpoint,” Doolittle said.

“Starting to spin the ball better. Could do a better job getting ahead of guys. I could really execute more consistently. There were a few fastballs that really jumped out of my hand, there were a few that didn’t.”

Doolittle said earlier this month that he switched to a lower leg kick upon returning to the mound following an IL stint late last season, and he’s continued to tinker as he’s prepared for the 2020 campaign.

“Trying to create better rhythm with my delivery and use my legs better to get a better drive towards home plate, to get better extension,” he said when asked what his focus was before he took the mound on Sunday.

“I wasn’t really allowing — prior to this outing — my lower half had been relatively quiet and nonexistent. I felt that I was throwing kind of all arm.

“And wasn’t getting the extension that I need to get in order to be effective. So I’ve been working really hard with Paul Menhart, with Octavio Martinez, in the bullpen, and Henry Blanco.

“I’ve been watching a bunch of film. I got it sent to my iPad so I could watch it.

“We’ve been grinding it out for the last week. I’ve made a lot of progress. I obviously still have work to do, but I feel close, I feel close, and I’m going to continue to go out there and attack and hopefully start finding a way to put some zeroes on the board.”

How did he start to get to work assessing what went wrong after the outing on Sunday?

First he had to cool down, because he was frustrated with the appearance, but then he got right back to work, preparing for the next time his manager calls his name.

What does he do to effectively channel that frustration?

“I try to process it objectively, and take some of the emotion out,” Doolittle said. “I can’t do that right away, like right after the outing, because I was pissed off at myself, so I went into the weight room, I did my shoulder program, I got my lift in, now I’m kind of settling back down. I’ve processed it.

“There were some things I thought I did well. I was happy with the progress I’ve made. And there are some other things that I need to clean up.

“Just trying to be objective about it. The film doesn’t lie. The film is as objective as you can get. So that’s another thing that I will watch. I won’t pore over it and micromanage every little thing, but there are some key things that I need to clean up, I need to pay attention to and do a better job with.

“I don’t know. But for me, like I said, trying to find a way to process it objectively is the key for me to being able to turn the page and come to the field ready to take the ball again tomorrow.”