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What’s next for Washington Nationals’ Sean Doolittle?

Sean Doolittle will work out at the Nationals’ Alternate Training Site for now, as he tries to straighten out his mechanics and recover some missing velocity...

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Washington Nationals v New York Mets Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Sean Doolittle talked to reporters after he gave up two hits, both home runs, and two runs in a 13 of an inning of work last Saturday night in the nation’s capital, and said that the real frustrating part of his early-season struggles was that he was physically fine but just out of whack.

“It’s just been incredibly frustrating,” the 33-year-old left-hander explained.

“Physically I feel really good. My knee feels strong. My arm feels good. Mechanically I might not be exactly where I want to be, but I feel physically like the ball should be coming out a lot harder than 89-90 [MPH]. It should have some life on it.

“I should be able to get through an inning. And it just hasn’t come together, and I’ve been working really, really hard, all through Summer Camp and so far during the season, trying to get things to click.”

Five days later, in advance of the series finale with the New York Mets in Citi Field, Doolittle was placed on the 10-Day Injured List (retroactive to Aug. 11) with right knee fatigue.

“So Sean, his right knee has some inflammation in it and it’s a testament I think that he’s working really hard to get back,” Davey Martinez told reporters in his post game presser following Thursday’s loss.

“He started to get better, and we felt like — I talked to him right before the game and I felt like that we probably should just put him on the IL. We don’t want him to regress, we want him to keep progressing. And him trying to land on that right foot won’t be good.

“So, unfortunately it’s a little setback, but hopefully he comes back and he’s ready to help us.”

When it was pointed out that Doolittle had previously said he was physically fine, Martinez said that the issue cropped up in, “probably the last couple days.”

“So, like I said, I just want to make sure that he doesn’t go backwards on us. And I know he’s been working really hard on his mechanics, but he needs that right leg to land on, we don’t want him going backwards and getting hurt.”

Doolittle said last weekend that he was hard at work with his coaches trying to find a fix for his decreased velocity and the mechanical issues he thought were the cause of his early-season struggles.

“We’re trying lots of new things, I’m working really hard and the results haven’t been there, and I feel terrible about it. So, there’s really not a whole [lot] else for me to do but continue to keep my head down and keep working hard.”

“It feels like maybe I’m getting too spread out so I can’t — it’s tough to transfer that power and the weight from my back leg to my front leg,” he explained. “And that makes it difficult for the ball to have that late life and that jump and the deception.”

With his fastball’s average velocity down around 3 MPH (from 93.5 MPH in 2019 to 90.6 early this season), Doolittle has relied more on his slider (throwing it 11.1% of the time so far in the 2020 campaign, after throwing it 5.8% of the time last season).

“The fastball is not where I want it to be, so in order to get the fastball to try to play up, try to show them some different things and try to mix it up. Those are pitches that I’ve always felt I kind of had in my back pocket and that I could use if I needed to.”

But with the velocity, jump, and deception on the fastball missing right now, hitters have a .500 AVG against the pitch so far (up from .259 on the season in 2019).

As the veteran reliever admitted, he hasn’t really felt right since the start of Spring Training 2.0 in early July, so time off might allow him to rest up while continuing to build up, and he and the Nationals have to hope, find some of that lost velo and life.

“I feel close,” he said, two days before he went out and gave up another home run but did complete an inning of work in Citi Field.

“There are days where I feel like I’m making progress. I just haven’t been able to fully get it to click, and I haven’t been able to get the results that I’ve been looking for, but that’s not going to stop me from working, and like I said, trying to bring a good attitude to the field every day.

“It could click tomorrow. Like I don’t know. That’s the only way for me to look at it, I’m going to just keep my head down and keep working. Cause like I said, I feel good, like physically I feel good. So, you know, it stinks.”

“He’ll have to work out in Fredericksburg,” Martinez said on Friday when asked what the next step was for the reliever.

“Protocol this year is that anybody that goes on the IL has to go to the Alternate place that we have, which is Fredericksburg. It’s just to limit the amount of people in the clubhouse.

“So he has to go there. We’re going to make sure though that we keep close eyes on him and see where he’s at. I think he was going to head over there today and start doing some stuff either this afternoon or tomorrow, but hopefully this is a temporary thing and we get him back as soon as possible.”

As for what he’ll be doing in Fredericksburg? Will he start throwing right away or rest the knee some?

“I kind of want his knee to feel fine before he starts throwing,” Martinez said. “We don’t want him to develop any bad habits right now. We want him to progress.

“We felt like over the last couple days he was doing that, but he was working his tail off to try to get things right. So hopefully these next ten days, he’ll figure it out and we get him back here to help us win some games.”