Davey Martinez pondered getting Sean Doolittle, (who returned from an IL stint for right knee fatigue on August 26th), into Friday night’s 10-2 win over the Boston Red Sox, then thought better of it since he wants to get the one-time closer back into a high-leverage relief role now that he’s seemingly 100% healthy.
“I toyed around with it [if it was] 6-1, 7-1, something like that,” Martinez explained when he was asked if he considered using Doolittle in the eighth or ninth, “but right then and there — he needs to be a guy again. We got to get him back out there somehow when the game is on the line.
“He understands that, so we’ll see tomorrow. He’s ready tomorrow, they’ve got some lefties in their lineup, so we’ll try to match him up the best we can.”
Nats’ Vice President and Assistant General Manager of International Operations Johnny DiPuglia told MLB Network Radio hosts Jon Morosi and Brad Lidge on Friday that though he didn’t get to see Doolittle work out at the Alternate Training Site in Fredericksburg, Virginia while Doolittle was on the 10-Day IL, he did hear positive reports on the progress the 33-year-old reliever made while trying to get his mechanics straightened out after a rough start to the season.
“That’s another issue with this pandemic,” DiPuglia said.
“I haven’t been able to go and see him throw, so I couldn’t give you my scout’s view on him.
“But from what I’m hearing Sean Doolittle is close to being what he was, and he’s a guy definitely that we need.”
A bullpen arm who can contribute, with the club’s starters struggling to go deep in games thus far, would be a welcome addition, DiPuglia said. “Doolittle would be nice, to have the Doolittle of old.”
How close is he to being that pitcher again?
“He’s back here now. He’s doing well. Hopefully, I know he was down just there throwing 89-90, hopefully it gets a little better,” Martinez said on Saturday afternoon, before the second of three with the Red Sox this weekend.
“He was throwing strikes, which was good, his mechanics look good, so he’s here, he’s going to help us, hopefully if we need him today, he’ll pitch today.
“He’s a veteran guy that understands how to pitch. He’s pitched in high-leverage positions. He was our closer. We need him, I told you that from the get-go. We need him.”
Will Doolittle, whose fastball sat 93-94 last season, be able to work effectively at 89-90?
“I think now he’s understanding that he can’t just go up there and throw fastballs up at the top of the zone every pitch. He’s got to mix in his pitches, he’s got to actually pitch, in on hitters, away on hitters, down, more of a location guy. So, he worked on that while he was down there.”
“He worked on his slider while he was down there,” Martinez added.
“So hopefully, like I said, things work out for him up here and we get the Sean Doolittle that can just get us outs. Three outs in an inning, that’s what we’re looking for.”
In his own Zoom call with reporters on Saturday afternoon, Doolittle said he thinks he can make it work even with decreased velocity.
“Yeah, definitely,” Doolittle said.
“Maybe pitching a little bit more, maybe going to some of that secondary stuff in some different counts than I normally do. Just to try to see if I can get the fastball to play up.
“But I think for me, the biggest key is just going to be ... trusting it, trusting my body.
“I’ve had success in my career when my velo had been in the low 90s, because I still can get that deceptiveness, there’s still that life on the fastball, even if the radar gun is 91-92.
“It still has that life. My mechanics are still allowing me to hide the ball from the hitter, they don’t pick it up very well. I might not get the high swing and miss percentages that I do when I’m throwing harder, but I’m still missing barrels and I’m getting a lot of soft fly balls and weak contact.
“I was really hung up on the velocity for a long time, and it was really frustrating looking up at the scoreboard and seeing 87-88, and I think that led me — I kind of panicked a little bit.
“I started over-correcting, I started trying to throw so hard and do these different things with my body to try to create more velocity, and I should have been trying to simplify things and focusing on the parts of my delivery that allow me to hide the ball and get that deception. So that’s going to be just as important as anything else right now.”
Doolittle, who was searching for answers before he landed on the IL, said he found some as he worked out at the Nationals’ Alternate Training Site.
“I was just trying to get back to being in a place where I felt like I could just trust myself again,” he told reporters.
“Came out of the quarantine, physically I was feeling good, but I — my mechanics, my delivery was just really, really out of sync. Through the last couple weeks of Summer Camp and the first couple weeks of the season, trying to — I was really trying a lot of different things to get it to sync up and I was doing a lot of extra throwing on the side and in the bullpen before the game started. And I think that that extra throwing just kind of took a toll on my body, on my knee, and I started feeling it and it was a good idea to press pause and go down there and really just focus on getting back to where I’ve been the last few years.”
While he was working at the Alternate Training Site, Doolittle watched video from when things were working to try to find a fix to help him get back to feeling more like himself.
“Watching a lot of stuff from 2018, from 2017, really focusing on the lower half,” he said. “I think a lot of my issues and the ineffectiveness really stemmed from trying to do too much and not trusting myself.
“When you feel out of sync like that, the tendency is to want to do more, to try harder, try to throw harder, but for me I’ve always been effective because my delivery, it was fluid, and it allowed that deceptiveness to really increase the effectiveness of my pitches. So, like I said, just getting back to a spot where I could trust my body and trust my delivery and not feel like I have to create too many things or overthrow.”
Doolittle worked with the Nationals’ Director of Mental Conditioning Mark Campbell to find ways to simplify things, and with Brad Holman, the pitching coordinator in Fredericksburg to try to implement the ideas they all came up with to try to get right.
“I was finally able to put it together — I don’t know what day it is anymore, so I don’t know when this happened,” Doolittle said, “but I did face hitters I think it was last Tuesday, and I had thrown a side like a day or two before, and I was finally able to take what I’d done in the side into the live situations with the hitters, and get results from it and really see some good results, so that was like a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. So, this past like week and a half, things have really started to fall into place, I feel a lot better.”
“I’m not searching for things anymore. I feel like my body has been in better positions, and I’m moving so much better, and so I can just trust it, but with that trust comes confidence.
“So I feel like myself again, so I’m confident and I’m optimistic and I’m looking forward to having the chance to get that first one back under my belt.”