Sean Doolittle is spending much of his time right now watching do-it-yourself videos on YouTube. He and his wife, Eireann Dolan, recently bought their first house, and that of course has led to home improvement projects.
It’s not exactly Doolittle’s specialty, but he was proud to point out some dried caulk still on the side of his shoe when he met with reporters at Nationals Winterfest.
“I’m getting better,” he said. “I still would not say I’m handy.”
That Doolittle’s offseason focus is on handiwork around the house underscores the fact that his left foot is not a priority or cause for concern anymore. That’s the most encouraging news surrounding the Nationals closer in months.
The stress reaction Doolittle suffered in his push-off foot put a serious dent into what otherwise was a brilliant season. He had a 1.60 ERA, 25 saves in 26 opportunities, a microscopic 0.600 WHIP and an otherworldly 60-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio. But he also missed two of the most important months of a season in which his team desperately needed him to stay alive in a pennant race.
“It’s kind of a mixed bag,” he said. “I’m really happy with how I pitched when I was healthy. But going into the season, my biggest goal was to pitch a full season, and I didn’t get to do that again. ... I was happy with how I pitched, but I still feel like I didn’t accomplish everything I wanted to accomplish, because I wasn’t able to stay healthy for the full season.”
Doolittle did come back and pitch well in September, and he’s been able to approach this offseason like every previous one, with no special accommodations. His sense is that he won’t have to worry about the issue cropping up again.
“We’re confident - I’m confident - it’s now behind me,” he said.
Doolittle is making a few small tweaks to help. He has new inserts in his cleats to provide support. He does some new exercises on his foot and ankle. He’s learned far more about the anatomy of that lowest part of his body than he ever cared to learn.
“I’ve got maybe some more maintenance stuff to do,” he said. “But it’s been really good.”
Doolittle plans to begin throwing in the next week and expects his progression will be similar to previous winters.
He’ll report to spring training and know his position is secure, the anchor of a bullpen that has undergone some significant change around him since the summer. Gone are Ryan Madson, Kelvin Herrera, Brandon Kintzler and Shawn Kelley. In (so far) are Trevor Rosenthal and Kyle Barraclough.
“I’m really excited,” Doolittle said. “Two guys with power stuff. Big strikeout guys. I haven’t met Barraclough yet, but I’ve talked a bunch with Rosenthal this weekend and he’s going to be a great fit. No matter how the roles shake out, I think we’ve seen you can’t have too many weapons. You can’t have too much depth in the back end of the bullpen. I think they’re both guys with experience pitching in those late-inning roles. I’m excited to get to share the bullpen with them.”