Sean Doolittle talked after he gave up a leadoff walk, two hits, and a run in his 2020 debut, taking the loss in the finale of the season-opening series with the New York Yankees, about the work he’s doing to get straightened out after an odd offseason of starts and stops while baseball searched for a way to play during an ongoing pandemic.
Doolittle, 33, said he felt good even if the results weren’t there, and his velocity wasn’t what it usually is for the reliever.
“I have super-mixed emotions about it,” Doolittle 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.
“That’s the best I’ve felt so far. 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.”
“In some respects, mechanically it was a step forward,” he added.
“My execution and fastball location wasn’t as crisp as I would have liked.”
Doolittle’s manager Davey Martinez has been trying to find spots to work Doolittle in as he tries to sort things out, and he threw 2⁄3 of a scoreless inning in his second appearance of the season, but the third time out another leadoff walk came around to score, putting the New York Mets up by two in a 3-1 loss for the Nationals.
As he works to get things right early in this 60-game campaign, Doolittle has a champion in the dugout, who believes he’ll get it together with all the work he’s doing to get back to his former self.
“I have all the confidence in the world in him,” Davey Martinez told reporters before the first of three with the Orioles in D.C. on Friday afternoon.
“I really do. We just got to keep putting him out there. He threw the ball a little bit better his last outing.”
Doolittle’s fastball has averaged 90.7 MPH early this season, down from 93.5 in 2019, though Martinez said it’s ticking up as he gets work in and ties to straighten out his mechanics.
“His velo was a little better, so we’ve just got to find spots to run him out there,” Martinez told reporters.
“We need him. He knows that. He’s doing everything he can to get ready and stay ready.
“So we just got to put him out there and hope that something clicks for him, and we get him back where he used to be.”
Doolittle’s goal in the work he’s doing behind the scenes?
“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,” the nine-year veteran said after his first outing this year.
“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 [Pitching Coach] Paul Menhart, with [bullpen catcher] Octavio Martinez, in the bullpen, and [Bullpen Coach] 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.”
“We’re trying to really hone in on him using his lower half a little better,” Martinez said on Friday afternoon, “and that’s I think a big part of it.
“I know he’s working on it. He’s with Paul [Menhart]. He’s been with Henry [Blanco] in the bullpen and really trying to stay over his backside and use his lower half a little bit better.”
“His velo was better his last outing, now he’s got to hone in the strike zone. I know he wants to pitch up. The first hitter he was 0-2 last time and went to 3-2, but I liked the way he threw the ball last time, so we’ll go from there.”
The club hasn’t considered anything as drastic as sending Doolittle to the team’s Alternative Training Site in Fredericksburg, VA, where players not included on the 28-Man Active Roster but in the 60-Man Player Pool are working to stay sharp in case they’re needed this season.
“No. Like I said, for me it’s about — he’s part of the core group here,” Martinez explained.
“We want him here. Like I said, I’ve got all the confidence in the world in him. I know Paul does as well, and we need him. When that little thing clicks, he’s going to be fine. So like I said, we’ve got to keep running him out there.
“We’ve got to find spots to put him in the game, but I really believe it will click and he’ll be right back to where he used to be.”
Martinez was clear, however, that he thinks it’s mechanical rather than physical, as in some sort of injury.
“He says he feels fine,” the third-year skipper said.
“We ask him all the time. I know sometimes we can be a little annoying, but we’re looking out for him, and his best interest, but he wants to help us win, and I’ve said this before, in order for us to pull this off, we need Sean Doolittle.”