Why IL stint may actually be welcomed by Sean Doolittle

Chris Lingebach
August 20, 2019 - 3:43 pm

Nationals closer Sean Doolittle believes he tweaked his knee on a trip to San Diego in early June, which may have led to a breakdown in his mechanics.

Doolittle finally hit the Injured List on Sunday, officially listed with "right knee tendonitis." That followed a rough patch in which Doolittle was charged with two blown saves in five appearances, and although he had three successful saves in between, his velocity was clearly down and fastball lacking that same bite it typically has.

"I kind of battle a little bit of knee tendinitis regularly. It's something that I've managed throughout my career," Doolittle told 106.7 The Fan's Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier during his weekly appearance, presented by Lindsay Volvo Cars of Alexandria.

"Sometimes you'll have good days and bad days with it, but I think that might be one of the reasons how I got to this point," he said. "Trying to compensate for it, maybe favoring it a little bit, even if subconsciously. My mechanics kind of eroded a little bit and that led to some ineffectiveness, so it's just this beautiful, chaotic circle that we have to just stop, press pause, get the knee right and get things back to where they need to be."

After taking a few days off, Doolittle will return to light throwing either Tuesday or Wednesday. Outside of arm recovery, he's been doing strength training focused around the knee, to "kind of remind my brain and body what it's supposed to be doing and really activating a lot of the muscles around it."

"There's a lot of stuff that I've been doing that's kind of part of a maintenance program to try to keep it at bay, that we're taking it up a notch while we're here on the IL to really wake it up, so to speak," he continued, "and get it moving the right way, just so in my mind I know that I can trust it when I get back out on the mound."

Mechanically, Doolittle says the IL stint will give him the chance to finally correct what's gotten out of whack with his delivery.

"I think there's some things that I can do mechanically to get my body into a better position," he said. "We've talked about this. It's been something I've kind of battled all season long, just real inconsistencies and haven't quite been able to get it right. And this is an opportunity to get it right, to work for a week and a half or so on, there's certain things in my mechanics that I'm not getting to right now.

"And if I can get my body in a better position, specifically over the rubber after that leg kick, coming down and collecting my body over the rubber before I drive down the mound. That's something I've kind of been rolling through right now and it doesn't allow you to use your lower body the way that you need to, especially if you're a four-seam guy that needs to ride the fastball out of the top of the zone."

"We're kind of killing two birds with one stone here," he added. "It'll be a good break to get my body ready for September and October."

Paulsen observed Doolittle's gotten rid of the toe tap that was previously a part of his delivery early in the season. Exploring whether to add it back will be a part of his mechanics work, Doolittle says.

"We're looking at it. I mean, I don't know if the toe tap's gonna come back," Doolittle said. "Even at points in my career when I wasn't using the toe tap, I had a little bit of a hesitation, or some people called it a hitch. There's a gather over the rubber."

"In no way shape or form am I comparing myself to Kershaw, but you've seen him pitch," he said. "You see the way that his leg comes down, and almost touches the ground and then he kind of has like another kick before he goes down the mound. I had a little more subtle version of that, but that's just to say I need that motion back where I come down before I go out.

"Right now it's almost like I'm going right from leg kick to the bottom of the mound. You lose your hips and you lose the way that you can't drive off your back leg the same way. You're basically falling down the mound rather than driving and getting behind the ball."

As far as his usage goes, Doolittle, before the injury, was on pace to set a career high in innings pitched, and was asked if he regrets not informing manager Dave Martinez to lay off him more this season.

"I've seen some of the speculation and stuff," Doolittle said. "You know what? Like, you talk about that usage in the beginning of the season and, I mean, I wanted to pitch and help the team win. Where we're at right now. What are we, 12 games up? We've won seven of eight. I don't really think it's fair to get into trying to play blame games and stuff like that, and figuring out like whose fault it is or anything like that."

"I wanted to take the ball because I wanted to help the team win," he said. "I wanted to be high-fiving on the mound after the game with the guys. I felt at that point in time, I felt good enough to go. That's when the phone rang. That's when my number was called. I don't have any regrets about it.

"It's a bummer the way that things unfolded, but this team, myself included, can still accomplish everything we wanted to accomplish at the beginning of the season. I think we're gonna be okay, but at the end of the day, when you're a reliever, when you're a closer; when you're a closer, you're the guy that you pitch at the end of the game, you close the game out. That's what I was doing. I don't have any regrets."

"I think I have a good line of communication with Davey," he went on. "He and I talk pretty frequently. There's never ever, ever been a time where I said, 'Hey, I could really use a day off' and I was never pressured into pitching or anything like that. I always knew that, if I needed a day – no matter what my workload had been the previous days or whatever – that I would get that day off. I knew that was always an option and I knew I could always say that to him... It just happens, man. I've been dealing with this knee thing for a while and we've just got to get it right, here."

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