Sean Doolittle not ready to relinquish Nats closer role

Chris Lingebach
August 13, 2019 - 9:02 pm

Nationals closer Sean Doolittle is showing signs of wear and tear with more than a month and a half to go in the season.

Two of Doolittle's past three outings have been rocky, starting with a blown save last Friday against the Mets and including Monday's one-run game against the Reds, in which he allowed two runs before slamming the door shut.

Doolittle, at 50.2 innings pitched, has already eclipsed his usage last season with the Nationals and – just 18.8 innings shy – is approaching his career high of 69 innings pitched. Did we mention there's more than a month and a half to go in the season?

Doolittle entered Friday's game against the Mets with a 6-3 lead in the bottom of the ninth and proceeded to give up four runs – including the game-winner – on six hits for his fifth blown save of the season.

He was allowed to rest Saturday. Instead, Fernando Rodney pitched the high-leverage eighth inning, blowing a 3-2 lead against the Mets while allowing the go-ahead run. Doolittle was back at it Sunday, pitching a scoreless ninth for a 7-4 win over the Mets and his 26th save of the season.

Doolittle entered Monday's game with a 7-4 lead over the Reds and gave up a lead-off homer to Phillip Ervin. He allowed two runs on three hits in the ninth on his way to scratching out the save, his 27th, for a 7-6 win.

During his weekly appearance with 106.7 The Fan's Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier – presented by Lindsay Volvo Cars of Alexandria – Doolittle was asked what his reaction might be if Nats skipper Dave Martinez approached him about taking a step back from his ninth inning role in the interest of preserving his arm.

"At the end of the day – we talked about this a lot in spring training, too – I want to win," Doolittle said. "I'm really competitive and I want what's best for this team. If he came to me like that, if he said it in those terms, then it kind of sounds like he has his mind made up. Then there's only so much that I can say or do to change his mind."

Paulsen interjected: "Let me ask you in a better way. Like, what if he asked you, like, 'What do you think?' Or, 'What do you want to do?'"

"Hey, I've got a good relationship with Davey and I can be brutally honest with him," Doolittle replied. "We've had so many good conversations over these last couple years that there's a lot of transparency there. But at the end of the day, I still think I can help this team out by pitching in that ninth inning."

"I know things have been rough recently," he continued. "Part of pitching in that role is being able to take some lumps over the course of a season. It's a tough role when you don't have any room for error. You're walking a tight rope every night. There's gonna be some ugly ones, there's gonna be some rough weeks, but we're in a good spot.

"Rather than shake up the entire rest of the bullpen, let's see if we can ride this out, because, physically, I feel pretty good, especially given what point we're at in the season. I think I have a pretty decent track record over my body of work here. But whatever we want to do, we're gonna do what's best for the team. I just... I think I can still really help the team in that spot."

Doolittle conceded his workload has contributed to him feeling "sluggish" on the mound recently. Not since 2014 has he pitched more than 60 innings in a season.

"I think it's a little bit physical," he said when asked to describe his recent struggles. "I kind of talked about this last night after the game, about how I haven't really amassed this kind of bulk in several years. There's nights, like last night, there's stretches over the course of a long season where you feel a little bit out of whack, maybe a little bit sluggish, because it catches up with you every once in a while."

"I'm in really good hands with our trainers, with our medical staff," he said. "We're constantly looking at ways to make things more efficient and try to stay fresh. The good players, the good teams, they find a way to grind out games when you're not feeling 100 percent and get to a point where you can play your best baseball down the stretch here."

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