Sean Doolittle likens Nats' bullpen woes to 'Top Gun'

Chris Lingebach
April 09, 2019 - 2:18 pm
Sean Doolittle likens Nats' bullpen woes to 'Top Gun'

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The 4-5 Nationals are scoring runs but rely on its bullpen to preserve leads. A perceived strength heading into the 2019 season has veered in a drastically different direction.

With a 10.17 ERA, Washington's bullpen owns the worst ERA in the Majors by more than a full run. Only Sean Doolittle (0.00 ERA) and Kyle Barraclough (1.80) hold an individual ERA below 5.00.

During his weekly 106.7 The Fan appearance – presented by Lindsay Volvo Cars of Alexandria – Doolittle was asked what Nats skipper Davey Martinez can even do at this point, beyond continuing to go to his pen and hoping for a better result.

"It's not an ideal situation," Doolittle told Grant & Danny Tuesday. "At the end of the day, Davey can communicate really well, he can try to do all of these different things, but at the end of the day, we as a group have to hold up our end and execute, and come in and do our jobs."

For the ever light-hearted Doolittle, the situation brings to mind a scene from the 1986 drama "Top Gun." In this dramatic recreation, Martinez will be playing the part of flight school commander "Viper," portrayed in the film by Tom Skerritt.

"I don't exactly know what the formula is right now – it's a little bit above my pay grade – but I think of Top Gun, when Maverick's going through his stuff and they say, 'Hey, keep sending him up.' Because as a reliever, like, that's the best thing that you can do, is to get back into the game," Doolittle explained. "You don't want to have those three, four days in between.

"Every time that phone rings, yeah, you're a little nervous because your last outing maybe wasn't good, but you know that the best thing for you is to get back out there, and you're hoping that the manager, the team, they haven't lost confidence in you. I think it's keeping guys in the mix. I think as guys continue to do some work behind the scenes, we'll get some things to click and we'll find the right combination of usage and roles."

"I don't know. It hasn't been great, obviously, but I've been really impressed with the way that the guys have continued to work," he said. "Our offense has picked us up more than once already, in the short season so far and those are the kind of things, too, that build team chemistry. We know that they have our backs; there's gonna be nights where we pick them up and we have their backs. This can be something that brings us together as a group and makes us stronger, we just have to keep grinding it out right now."

Trevor Rosenthal, still stuck with an infinity ERA after failing to earn a single out after four appearances, has looked especially lost this season. He's allowed seven runs, all earned, and put four runners on base with balls.

Rosenthal's most recent appearance against the Mets on Sunday – entering the game with a 12-6 lead in the eighth – felt particularly useless. He hit the first batter, then allowed that runner to advance to third on consecutive wild pitches, and then went on to complete the walk he'd been working towards. Runners on first and third, no outs, in seven pitches. Wander Suero would bail him out with a pair of strikeouts and a lineout.

"Every reliever goes through periods like that at multiple times through their career," Doolittle said of his bullpen mate. "It's tough for me – my heart goes out to him – because coming off the injury, I mean, he's missed how many months? I think when he pitched in the spring training game, it was like 16 or 18 months from when he was last in a real game. He's put in so much work to get back onto the field."

"During that time when you're rehabbing from an injury," Doolittle said, "you kind of start to build these expectations for how it's gonna go when you're finally back and you're healthy, because your body's feeling really good again. He was throwing 99 and he flashed 102 in spring training.

"So you have this vision of how it's gonna go, and then sometimes when it doesn't start off the way that you had been thinking about it for the last year and a half, that can... I'm not saying this is what's happening, but I'm just saying from my personal experience with dealing with injuries, sometimes when those first couple outings don't go the way that you want them to go after you come back from an injury, it can be really frustrating."

"But, I don't know. He was a guy yesterday, he threw a bullpen before the game and he looked really good. He hasn't stopped working. He hasn't stopped finding that, whether it's the terminology or a thought process, he's gonna get it to click."

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