Back-to-back outings signal Doolittle's rehab progress

Sean Doolittle’s rehab tour through the Nationals’ farm system continues tonight for Single-A Fredericksburg, where the veteran reliever will be returning to the mound only 24 hours after his last appearance.

Doolittle, in the final stages of recovery from last summer’s elbow surgery, just tossed a 1-2-3 inning of relief Thursday night. He struck out one batter, threw eight of his 13 pitches for strikes and reached 92 mph with his fastball, according to manager Davey Martinez.

That was Doolittle’s third rehab appearance overall, the first coming for Single-A Wilmington on Saturday before he moved to Fredericksburg on Tuesday. Each included a scoreless inning and at least one strikeout.

Tonight presents a new challenge as Doolittle pitches back-to-back days for the first time in competitive games since he had an internal brace procedure on his sprained elbow ligament nearly 11 months ago. The fact he’s ready for that kind of workload can only be considered a good sign about his health, though Martinez cautioned against speculating too much about what it means until the lefty actually pitches and reports no issues afterward.

“It’s a good thing, but we’ll see how he gets through it today,” Martinez said. “We’ll see how he feels tomorrow. It may be where he gets two days off after his back-to-back, and then we’ll go from there. Or maybe just one day, depending on how he feels.”

This much is certain: Doolittle is making his fourth game appearance in seven days, the kind of workload a healthy reliever could expect on a major league active roster. Doolittle isn’t quite there yet, but his path back to the bullpen at Nationals Park appears to be as close as it has been in nearly a year.

“I think it’s based right now on how he feels,” Martinez said. “With these kind of injuries, he’s checking all the boxes, but I want to be really careful with him. He’s worked diligently to get back, and he’s doing well. We’re at the point now where he’s doing well, but we want to keep him healthy.”

* Victor Robles took a full round of batting practice on the field today, the first time he’s done that since landing on the 10-day injured list with back spasms one month ago.

Martinez said the center fielder hopes to begin running Wednesday, the last key hurdle for him to overcome before he can start playing in game situations and ultimately return to the active roster.

* Israel Pineda continues to be hampered by injuries and doesn’t appear likely to return from the IL anytime soon. The young catcher, who fractured a finger during spring training, then dealt with a shoulder issue that delayed his rehab. Now, only three games into a rehab assignment with Wilmington, he’s got a left oblique strain that figures to sideline him for even more time.

“Obviously, he came back, he was excited to be back,” Martinez said. “And then the oblique thing was something nobody expected. It’s tough to swing or do anything with an oblique. So he’s going to be shut down for a little bit until we can get him healthy again. It’s been tough. He’s had a history of having these injuries. We’ve just got to get him healthy, get him ready, get him on the field.”

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