Sean Doolittle is a one-pitch pitcher. He’s not afraid to admit it. As noted before, he’s willing to throw the occasional slider or changeup, but at his core he’s a fastball guy and he’ll keep living and dying by that fastball.
Which is why, in part, the final at-bat of Thursday night’s game at Nationals Park was so compelling.
With two outs and the tying runner on third base, Doolittle was facing Marlins leadoff man Dee Gordon. The left-hander kept pumping out high fastballs, and Gordon kept fighting them off, fouling away three two-strike pitches to keep the count at 2-2.
So the question then became: Did Doolittle at any point think about throwing something else?
“It’s a little bit tempting,” he said. “But I’ve been on ...”
Doolittle’s voice trailed off as he spoke in front of his locker, his eyes focused on a television about 10 feet away. MLB Network happened to be showing his final pitch of the game at that moment, and the lefty couldn’t help but watch the replay and comment on his execution of a critical pitch.
“Yeah, it was right there,” he said as he watched his fastball up and away to Gordon. “I put it right where I wanted to put it.”
Doolittle then regathered his thoughts and continued with the original answer to the question about throwing some other pitch in that situation.
“I’ve been on other side of it where I’ve done that,” he said. “I’ve gone to the slider, and I’ve gotten burned by it. And then the feeling of getting beat on something other than your best pitch, that’s tough to live with. In that scenario - two outs, two strikes, a guy in scoring position - if I throw the breaking ball and he takes it, now I’ve got 3-2. Do I feel good enough to go a full count? Maybe. Depends on the night. Depends on how I’m feeling that night, or how it was working in the ‘pen before.
“So a lot of things kind of factor into it. But at the end of the day, staying in attack mode seems to give me the best chance for success. That’s a pitch that I’ve been able to have a lot of success on in my career. If (catcher Matt) Wieters wanted, if he felt strongly enough about it, I would’ve felt good about it, too. But he came out, we talked about it real quick, so we were on the same page.”
Wieters put down one finger again, and Doolittle complied with another fastball. Gordon finally caught up with it enough to put it into play, but his little looper down the left field line was snagged by a diving Andrew Stevenson, who had shaded himself way over toward the line and in several steps, recognizing Gordon was most likely to hit a ball in that direction.
“I looked before the at-bat,” Doolittle said of Stevenson’s positioning. “I glanced around the outfield, and he was a little bit in and over. But I’m guessing - based on where he was when I turned my head - that he had creeped over. But it’s beautiful. Smart. He’s smart. Smart kid.”