No designated closer (yet) between Madson and Doolittle

ANAHEIM, Calif. - Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle are both here, both wearing Nationals uniforms - Madson wearing No. 44, Doolittle wearing No. 62 - and both insist they're ready and available for whatever role Dusty Baker envisions for the newly acquired relievers.

What roles exactly will those be? Well, the answer for now is a simple-yet-unsatisfying one: Baker doesn't know.

Madson and Doolittle certainly will be pitching late innings for the Nationals, particularly when they hold a lead. But given the track record for both guys, and especially their injury histories, neither is going to be designated for a specific role.

So, for now, there's no designated ninth-inning guy, no designated eighth-inning guy.

ryan-madson-as.jpg"We won't be just setup man/closer situation, as much as you'd like it to be," Baker said. "It'll be sort of workload combination with what we have now."

What they have now also includes the longstanding members of the bullpen that have been carrying the load through a turbulent season. So don't be surprised if Matt Albers and Enny Romero and Oliver Pérez continue to get opportunities late in games, helping keep Madson and Doolittle from overuse.

And overuse is a significant concern with both relievers. Though both stated they are capable of pitching as much as needed, Baker strongly suggested he's going to be careful with each of them after a phone call with Athletics manager Bob Melvin.

"We talked extensively, and he gave me a pretty good idea," Baker said. "And I talked to (Madson and Doolittle) as well. Communication is the key, especially whenever you're just meeting somebody. Bob Melvin assured me that these guys were two of his finest on the field and off the field. They're great clubhouse guys and they're going to fit in very well with the team that we have here."

This much is certain: Both pitchers are genuinely excited to join a first-place club after toiling with the struggling A's the last two seasons. Both found familiar faces in the Nationals clubhouse, with Madson rejoining former Phillies teammates Jayson Werth and Joe Blanton plus others he's played with over a long career, and Doolittle reconnecting with former college teammate Ryan Zimmerman.

For the 37-year-old Madson, a two-time World Series champion who missed three seasons following Tommy John surgery, this is a particular appreciation for this opportunity.

"I know I look young, but I'm getting up there, and I don't know how many bullets are left and how many chances I'm going to have," he said. "So this opportunity, what a gift. I can't put it into words."

Doolittle, 30, has much more baseball ahead of him, but after a career spent in the A's organization he now enters a new world.

"I loved my time in Oakland, but for the last couple years, things have been kind of rough," he said. "To come here with the opportunity we have, I'm super, super excited about it."

Both have pitched in the postseason, and both understand what it's like to take the mound in the ultimate pressure situation. Which is why both are being careful not to put much pressure on themselves now to be the saviors of a Nationals bullpen that sorely needs some.

"That will lead you down the wrong path," Madson said. "Just do what we do well. Know what you do well, and just do that. And everything else will take care of itself. It is a road that you can go down and put that extra pressure and stress on yourself. But this game comes with enough, so it's good to just focus on what you do well and what makes you good."

Added Doolittle: "I think we're definitely aware of what was made of the move, but try not to think about it, right? Because we've got a job to do. And sometimes when trades get made, expectations get built up super-high. I think we've got to focus on doing our job every day, as cliché as that sounds."

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