Monday night, Nationals fans and the world saw Bryce Harper pump up the crowd, get charged up during his home run hitting barrage and then show genuine emotion during the postgame news conference following an electric late comeback to win the 2018 Home Run Derby in Washington, D.C.
Many felt that display of emotion looked like the Harper they saw from 2012 to 2017, where he showed a youthful exuberance and energy every game. That way of playing the game defined the personality of his team and brought everyone around him up to his emotional level.
It also felt like his Home Run Derby dramatic win might be something that Harper and his teammates could use to carry over to the second half, following the start-and-stop feeling for the club in the first half when they finished 48-48 and in third place in the National League East.
I asked Doolittle if this emotion that Harper showed Monday could be a positive for the club as they try to climb up the standings and back into the playoff hunt with 66 games remaining?
“I would argue that the emotion when you show it ... So like Bryce when he kind of broke through (Monday night) after he won, after a save it kind of comes out, it’s not planned, it’s really organic,” Doolittle said. “I think when you can recognize the opportunity you have in front of you and really appreciate the situation, whether it’s a save, whether it’s a home run derby, whether its guys on base and you are coming up to bat, or your coming out of the pen in a tough situation, for me (that outburst of emotion) comes from like, you got the job done.
“You’re excited you helped out your team, you helped your team win. I think so often times like still for some reason in baseball it’s frowned upon to show emotion, it’s frowned upon to do a back flip after you hit a home run. It’s frowned upon to do something after you get a big out on the mound.”
Doolittle said that emotion is something this version of the Nats needs to use as fuel to attack the next two months and play with energy produced by that emotion every day.
“We got something to play for right now, there’s something that is on the line. I think we need to play with more emotion, we need to play with more of a sense of urgency.
“I think for a little while in the first half there was a sense like once we get healthy we are going to be OK. We can’t wait any more. The guys that we have are the guys that we have. They all had experience last year when we were dealing with injuries too. Maybe there are some guys that are in different spots or they are out of position, I don’t know, but we have the guys to do it.
“I know the expectations were what they were coming into the season but we are what, 5 ½ back? Pressure’s on them not to mess this up. Let’s go crash their party.”
Much was made last month about a players-only meeting that was called where issues were ironed out following a string of frustrating results to begin the season. There were reports of raised voices and “yelling”.
This clubhouse has many players that quietly go about their business as professionals each day and each game. It does not appear to be the type of clubhouse where chairs are thrown, and tables are turned over when things are not going well or the team is not reaching its potential.
Do the Nationals need to be more emotional when results are not what they expected? Could that type of emotion help the team improve their on-field product?
“I think sometimes people get hung up on what it looks like from the outside,” Doolittle said. “I know there was some stuff last year about when we lost game five like we weren’t upset enough after the game. You have no idea what we felt after that game.
“The same thing goes on a small level, game-to-game: Max shows it more outwardly, I show it more outwardly. But watch (Anthony) Rendon’s laser focus before a game, watch guys like (Stephen) Strasburg prepare for a game. It’s a different (way of working) because our personalities are all different. It’s a different kind of preparation. It’s a different kind of, maybe, head space they get into to go into a game.”
Doolittle said that if a quiet guy suddenly started screaming when things weren’t going well, that wouldn’t work either.
“And if there was somebody that tried to speak up in the clubhouse, if that’s not their personality, it’s going to back fire, it’s going to go the other way,” Doolittle said. “So, I’m not that guy just at all. I’m not very loud in the clubhouse, so if I try to call a team meeting and pump everybody up I could fall flat on my face and guys would be like, ‘what is this guy doing? That’s not your personality’. I’m trying too hard. I think everybody’s personality is different. It kind of manifest differently.
“I don’t think it’s fair to draw a correlation between how loud a guy screams and how much he cares. Doesn’t work like that.”
Earlier Doolittle talked more about the expectations of this group and how they have the players they need to turn this season back to the positive roll they felt in May.
“It’s not a talent thing, it can’t be. There’s too much talent in that locker room,” Doolittle explained. “I think it’s difficult to put your finger on one thing but I talk a little about the clichés that are going to be really important for us in the second half like I think we can do a better job of playing like a team and offensively having productive outs. Getting shut down inning after our guys out runs on the board. Relievers coming in and picking each other up when coming in with guy left on base. Little things that aren’t always sexy, don’t always get talked about on the highlight shows. If we do that, if we play like a team, it’s such a talented group that we could make a really good run at this thing.”
Unfortunately, Doolittle has not been able to pitch recently because of a foot injury. But he said he will use this down time in rehab wisely so that he can go even harder in the final two months of the season when he gets back on the mound.
“For me, right now, I’m thinking about this foot thing I’m dealing with,” he said. “It’s frustrating being on the DL but I’m trying to use it as a period where like my arm gets to rest a little bit I get to let my body recover. Now as soon as this clears up, I can come back in the second half and feel really fresh and be ready to carry that load and pitch frequently several times a week in the second half.”