Over the course of the 2021 campaign, which he spent with Cincinnati and Seattle, veteran reliever Sean Doolittle recovered some of the velocity he’d lost while dealing with injuries and the effects of pitching a ton in 2019, as he helped the Washington Nationals stay afloat early and eventually go on to win the World Series.
Doolittle’s fastball velo fell from an average of 93.8 MPH in 2018 and 93.5 in 2019 to 90.7 in 2020’s 60-game COVID campaign, but pitching for the Reds and Mariners in 2021 his four-seamer sat at an average of 93.1 MPH, and early this season it’s sitting at 93.8.
“I was really encouraged by my progression over the course of the season last year,” Doolittle told reporters, as quoted on MLB.com, early in Spring Training 2022.
“It was a little bit of a rollercoaster, especially early, but I think I ended throwing the ball really well. So I’m really excited to pick up where I left off.”
The now-35-year-old reliever said he felt like he had something to prove too, after the way his first run in the nation’s capital ended in 2020.
“I always kind of hoped that I would have the opportunity to come back one day, because I wasn’t happy with 2020,” he said. “The pandemic, it was what it was. The season was what it was. But my personal performance, I was really unhappy with, and it’s almost like I didn’t want my time here to end on that note.”
Doolittle gave up four hits, three walks, and four earned runs in 2 1⁄3 innings of work, but he came out throwing heat in his 2022 debut, inheriting two runners after the HBP and bench-clearing brouhaha with the New York Mets, and retiring three straight without a run scoring in an 11-pitch, seven-strike appearance.
The lefty looked better than he had in Spring Training, his manger said the next day.
“Absolutely. This is when it really counted, in a big moment too, and he did really well. So that was awesome to see, and he felt really good after he came back, and like I said, he’s a guy who — I will use him in high-leverage situations, because he’s — not only does he have good stuff, but he’s smart and he knows how to pitch in those situations, he’s done it his whole career.”
Doolittle struck out two in a nine-pitch, eight-strike, 1-2-3 inning in his second appearance out of the Nationals’ bullpen, and Wednesday in Atlanta, GA’s Truist Park, the southpaw in Washington’s relief corps retired the side in order in a six-pitch, five-strike inning of work.
Steve Cishek followed Doolittle out of the bullpen with his own six-strike, five-pitch outing, and then Tanner Rainey handled the ninth for the save in a 3-1 win.
“That’s a beautiful thing,” Martinez said of Doolittle and Cishek combining for two scoreless on a super-efficient 12 pitches, “... and that’s the first thing I said to both of them, ‘Hey, you were very efficient today, so that’s awesome. And pump those strikes.’ And when they can do that, we can use them for back-to-back days, and maybe three days, or even try to get a guy out with two outs. They’re throwing the ball well.”
Kyle Finnegan gave up a run in the sixth, the only one the club allowed in the series finale with the team’s NL East rivals, taking over after five innings of scoreless work from starter Josiah Gray.
Martinez talked afterwards about his comfort-level with the four reliable arms working at the back end in his A-bullpen mix.
How is he handling things now? Is he handling the bullpen with a long-term view in mind? Is it a day-to-day approach, focused on each game and what he needs to win each day?
“We’re actually — right now, we’re focused on just one day at a time, honestly with these guys,” Martinez said. “And it’s based on a lot of conversation and how they’re feeling, so as much as you start seeing these guys pitching the way they’re pitching, you got to understand that we’re still in early April, so we’ve got be smart. I could have easily ran Doolittle out there for that second inning and I thought he would have done a great job, but with Cishek matching up the way he matched up with those guys, why? So he can go out there tomorrow and hopefully tomorrow he’s in there in the sixth, seventh, eighth, or ninth again and he’s fresh and good to go.”