PITTSBURGH - Sean Doolittle knew something wasn’t right in his left foot as far back as Friday, but he didn’t think it was anything to be concerned about, that all would be fine if he took a couple days off. But by the time Monday arrived and Doolittle decided to see how the foot felt when he threw off a bullpen mound and simulated fielding bunts, he realized this problem was more serious than he initially thought.
And so today the Nationals were forced to place their All-Star closer on the 10-day disabled list with what officially was called “left toe inflammation” but what the pitcher himself referred to as a “pinched nerve” between his big toe and second toe.
The injury will sideline Doolittle the rest of this week and prevent him from pitching in next week’s All-Star Game. And though he hopes to return when the second half of the season begins July 20, he can’t say for certain yet if that will actually happen.
“The All-Star stuff is kind of secondary right now,” he said. “I think I’ll still be able to participate in the peripheral stuff. And I’m still excited about being a part of it in the home city. Yeah, it’s a bummer, but I want to be back for the guys.”
Doolittle couldn’t be there for his team the last three games, and that fact bothered him more than anything else. A Nationals bullpen that already had been severely overworked as a result of a string of early departures by starting pitchers also was without its closer.
And now the Nats will continue to be without their closer for the final six games of this road trip through Pittsburgh and New York.
“These guys, they’ve been putting in a lot of work, and I feel bad that I haven’t been able to help them,” Doolittle said. “Right now, this is the only way I can help them, by giving my spot to somebody else who can.”
Doolittle’s spot in the bullpen for now is going to Wander Suero, who was recalled from Triple-A Syracuse to provide a fresh arm. (The right-hander threw 15 pitches Sunday for the Chiefs.) Doolittle’s job pitching the ninth inning is going to Kelvin Herrera, the former Royals closer who had taken on a setup role upon his acquisition last month.
Doolittle said he has experienced discomfort in this area of his foot before, usually in spring training as he gets re-acclimated to pitching off a mound, but never to the extent he felt it Friday in Washington as he prepared to face the Marlins. He went ahead and pitched, retiring the side on eight pitches and earning the win when Mark Reynolds launched his walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth.
But Doolittle said the pain was worse by the end of the night, and that’s when he knew there was a problem.
“Whenever I put weight on it, that area expands,” he said. “And then when I try to push off or move, it really grabs and I get pretty good shooting pain up my foot. It’s really frustrating, ‘cause it’s a long way from my arm.”
An MRI and X-ray revealed no major issues but did show a neuroma, a pinched nerve between the two toes. Doolittle rested for a couple days, then on Monday tried to test his foot. It didn’t pass the test.
“We had it taped up, I got a bunch of treatment before I went out, and I still couldn’t quite get into my mechanics,” he said. “At that point, you have to start considering the effect it’s going to have on my arm if I can’t get my body in the right spot, if I can’t use my body the whole right way.”
Doolittle was walking through the clubhouse with a slight limp this afternoon, then was fitted with a walking boot that he admitted overdramatized the whole situation but does provide relief.
He’s allowed to play catch while the foot heals, so he believes he won’t need much time to ramp himself back up to game-shape once he’s cleared to return. He’s eligible to come off the DL on July 20, when the Nationals host the Braves in a big series coming out of the All-Star break, but he won’t know for a while if he’ll achieve that goal.
In the meantime, a Nats club that has at various points this season lost Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon, Daniel Murphy, Adam Eaton, Ryan Zimmerman, Matt Wieters, Matt Adams, Howie Kendrick, Ryan Madson, Brandon Kintzler, Jeremy Hellickson and Erick Fedde to injuries now will be without Doolittle for at least a little while.
“One of these days,” manager Davey Martinez said, “we’ll have the 25-man roster we were supposed to have from day one.”