Doolittle excited to increase rehab activities

You’ll have to excuse Sean Doolittle if he seems a little amped over something as trivial as playing catch as a major league pitcher. For a guy who had to go on the 10-day injured list after a strong start to the season and then went months without picking up a baseball, the left-hander had a lot of energy and a lot to say about his ongoing rehab process.

“We're in my second week of playing catch. ... Up to 75 feet right now. And just building back up,” Doolittle said in front of his locker in the Nationals clubhouse Friday afternoon. “I can't remember the last time I took two months off from throwing. But the elbow and the forearm have been feeling really good. All of the strength work has gone really well and now is the fun part. Getting to throw and play catch again, knock that rust off. We don't have a timetable or anything. But it's been going really well.”

Doolittle landed on the 10-day IL with a left elbow sprain on April 20, the day after he recorded two outs in relief of Josiah Gray during the Nationals’ 6-1 win over the Diamondbacks in the matinee of a D.C. doubleheader. A little over two weeks later, he was moved to the 60-day IL after receiving a platelet-rich plasma injection that would keep him out for a longer period of time.

He had to stop throwing for what turned out to be about two months. He wasn’t allowed to do what he’s literally paid to do.

After starting the season with 5 1/3 scoreless innings, a 0.188 WHIP and six strikeouts to no walks over six appearances, was that particularly frustrating for him?

“Yeah. And I think the instinct is to try to speed the process up a little bit, right?” Doolittle said. “Because you want to make up for what you feel like is lost time, but you gotta do it right. So there's some frustrating days like that and balancing some of those emotions is one of the harder, more difficult parts of the rehab process. But the thing that's kept me going is that we've just seen really consistent, steady progress throughout this whole process. 

“So I wish I was out there. I hate having to watch the games on my couch when the boys are on the road. I wish I could be around the team. Shoot, I wish I could help on the field. But when the team's in town, I do anything I can to be around them and help behind the scenes.”

But now at long last, the rehab process is starting to ramp up as Doolittle was able to start throwing a ball this week. He hasn’t started long tossing yet, never mind getting on a mound, but he can see the patient path that will lead him back to pitching. And he’s excited.

“Yeah, we'll build up to long toss right now,” Doolittle said of his rehab plan moving forward. “We have that part of the progression mapped out. We want to get to long tossing here in the next couple of weeks. And from there, it's a process to throw some bullpen sessions. But past that, I don't know. We haven't mapped out that far. I don't know what it'll take after that, but I don't want to guess.”

Doolittle, ever a student of his own game, has also taken this time off to study film and make some mechanical adjustments in the hope of avoiding a similar injury in the future.

“Yeah, a little bit. I spent a lot of time combing through some mechanical stuff,” Doolittle said of his video work. “I was looking at stuff from this year, I was looking at stuff from, like, 2018. Yeah, the biggest thing is doing a better job of getting my hand above my elbow and shoulder with that full-foot strike. So I think, whether it's creating a better rhythm with my hand brake and being just more aggressive and fluid so that it flips up better. The later it is, the more you gotta catch up, and you're putting a ton of torque on your elbow. I really think I'm splitting hairs when I'm looking at the video.” 

In his studies, he’s also found that the original injury that sidelined him two months ago was an odd one in that he doesn’t think he did anything wrong to cause the sprain. Nevertheless, it occurred so early in the season that the veteran decided to just take care of it and be available later in the season.

“I don't think it was bad enough to cause an injury in April when I got hurt,” Doolittle said. “But we have time. It's something I feel like I should address right now. I think it was just a product of, I was throwing hard again for the first time in a couple of years. And (I) had (11) games in 2020. Then I had a full season last year. And then I came in this year throwing hard again, getting better extension. It was such a weird couple of years. And even though I got back to where I wanted to get to, my body just wasn't used to doing it. And I think it just needed a break. It stinks, but I'm trying to use this time to make sure I'm giving myself the best chance I can.”

What is just as hard for Doolittle to stomach is not being available to play with his teammates, forced to watch the Nats on TV from his couch when they’re on the road and he’s back in D.C.

Even during this sometimes frustrating rehab, he remains a big cheerleader for the guys in curly W hats, especially the ones coming out of the bullpen.

“I love my guys,” Doolittle said. “When they're out there and I'm watching, it's like you're a parent watching a kid, man. Like my heart is just in my throat every pitch. Regardless of what the score is, the situation is, I just want them to do well.”

Doolittle is starting the more “fun” parts of his rehab. But he’s also aware that he doesn’t need to rush back. When he’s ready, the Nationals want him to contribute for the rest of the season.

But again, forgive him for being excited.

Oh, and for all of you fellow "Star Wars" fans, no, he has not started "Obi-Wan Kenobi" yet, instead committing his time at night to watching the Nationals.

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