Finally healthy after two months, Doolittle off DL (another delay)

What would Sean Doolittle have thought, the Nationals closer was asked today, if told when he first noticed what felt like a minor left toe injury on July 7 that he wouldn't return for two months?

"I would've said you were crazy," the left-hander said. "I was feeling really good, and I was pitching better than I ever have in my career. If you had told me when I came out of that game that night that I was going to have to wait two months to get to do that again, I would've said you were crazy."

Nobody was crazy, but Doolittle nearly did go crazy waiting for what eventually was diagnosed as a stress reaction in his foot to heal. He watched the Nationals - at that point two games over .500 and still confident they would finish atop the National League East by season's end - go 24-29 in his absence and trade away six veterans while conceding the division to the Braves and Phillies.

Now, after all that, Doolittle is back, activated today off the disabled list. He knows his return isn't going to turn the team's season around; it's too late for that. But he does believe it's worth it to come back and pitch the final three weeks of the season and head into the winter confident that he'll enter 2019 with no questions.

Doolittle-Severino-Congrats-Red-Sidebar.jpg"I guess to prove to myself that I'm healthy," he said when asked his reasons for coming back. "To end the season on a good note. I don't know, man, I've just really been thinking about getting back out there and competing, and hopefully fall back into that routine of business as usual that I was into the first two months of the season."

There's no question the Nationals desperately missed Doolittle, who had a 1.45 ERA, 0.536 WHIP and 22 saves in 23 opportunities when he first felt the problem in his back foot two months ago. Injuries to Kelvin Herrera and Ryan Madson, plus the trades of Brandon Kintzler, Shawn Kelley and (once healthy again) Madson ravaged the bullpen this summer and played a major role in the club's downfall.

Through it all, Doolittle could only watch from the dugout or bullpen and try to support his teammates without actually pitching in a game.

"There's a lot of reasons why it was really frustrating and really tough," he said. "That feeling of helplessness when you just really want to be out there ... I'm not sitting here saying the season would have gone any different. But just not being able to be there on the field with the guys, going through the same things they're going through day in and day out, it's different. ... That was really tough."

Doolittle thought he would be back much sooner, but it took longer than anticipated for the pain in his foot to dissipate. And attempts to tweak his pitching mechanics to compensate for the injury left him uncomfortable about his ability to get big league hitters out and not risk injury to his arm or something else.

Over the last two weeks, though, he finally made significant progress, confirmed during three simulated games against teammates. And as he now is set to return, he's confident his mechanics are back to where they were pre-injury, and there's no threat of further injury.

"I think over the last week or so, we've hit on every checkmark that we wanted to hit," he said. "I think I threw an extra simulated game just to be sure. I've kind of passed all the running tests, the mobility tests and the strength tests. It feels normal."

And now, there's only one thing left for Doolittle to do: warm up in the bullpen late in a game, wait for the call from the dugout and become the first pitcher to enter via the Nationals Park bullpen cart.

"I hope so, man," he said. "Unless somebody sneaks a ride in before I get in there tonight. It's looking pretty good like I might be the first passenger. I'm looking forward to that."

Update: The start of tonight's game will be delayed by inclement weather.

Update II: The Nationals have announced that they expect tonight's game to start at 8:25 p.m.

Update III: Tonight's first pitch came at 8:26 p.m. after a delay of 1 hour, 21 minutes.

Update IV: Rain interrupted tonight's game in the second inning and we're back into a delay as of 8:49 p.m.

Game postponed after two delays, true doubleheader...
Game 142 lineups: Nats vs. Cubs

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