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A perfect Sean Doolittle has middle innings set for Washington Nationals

Josh Bell rings in with bases loaded...

MLB: APR 13 Nationals at Braves Photo by Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Washington Nationals fans welcomed Sean Doolittle back to the team with open arms in 2022, after a “gap year” in 2021 when he pitched in Cincinnati and Seattle following four years in D.C., and the literate left-hander has rewarded fans and his teammates with a perfect season to date.

In last night’s 7-2, Jackie Robinson Day victory in Pittsburgh, Doolittle tore through the Pirates’ 4-5-and-6 hitters, Yoshi Tsutsugo, Ben Gamel, and Diego Castillo, on nine pitches, anchoring four scoreless innings from the bullpen in relief of starter Erick Fedde.

Doolittle attacked the strike zone with four-seamers from the outset, daring Tsutsugo to swing and miss at high heat twice before locking him up on a 1-2 four-seamer that tailed down and in.

Gamel needed just three pitches to fly out to left fielder Yadiel Hernández, and Castillo needed just two to fly out to center fielder Lane Thomas.

Washington Nationals v Atlanta Braves Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Doolittle’s sixth on Friday was his third 1-2-3 inning of the season, after he shut out the Mets for an inning on April 10 and blanked Atlanta on Wednesday.

He’s struck out four of the nine batters he’s faced so far.

“He’s been good, so let’s keep it right there,” manager Davey Martinez quipped when his lefty’s unblemished record was raised in his post-game session with reporters.

“He’s healthy. He’s in shape. He worked on a few things in Spring Training with his mechanics, and he’s throwing the ball real well.”

Also perfect on Friday night was Josh Bell with the bases loaded, coming up twice in that situation and diverting a pair of hits and three RBIs on a 2-for-4 night.

Bell’s first chance came in the first inning, with César Hernández, Juan Soto, and Nelson Cruz on following singles.

Bell lined an 0-1 four-seamer from right-hander Mitch Keller into left field to keep the line moving and score Hernández.

Batting left-handed in the sixth against right-hander Miguel Yajureh, Bell lined the first pitch he saw, an outside change-up, into left field to score Alcides Escobar, who was hit by a pitch, and Soto, who had walked, and sent Nelson Cruz, who had also walked, to second base.

Washington Nationals v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Bell is now 2-for-4 with the bases loaded this season, with four of his team-high nine RBIs.

“We get guys on base,” Martinez said. “As you know Juan is going to accept his walks, we’ve got two guys behind him who can drive some guys in, and we’re going to score some runs.”

The Nationals now have a best-in-baseball five hits in nine at-bats in bases-loaded situations after coming up empty with the bases full more often than not in 2021, hitting .198 (33 for 167) last season.