Here are some great insights from the Nats Winterfest last week at Nationals Park. Closer Sean Doolittle shared about his time starting out in pro baseball when he arrived as a hitter. After suffering through several injuries, it was suggested to Doolittle that he switch from position player to pitcher. He then slowly made the transformation and got himself to the big leagues.
“I definitely took the scenic route to get to the major leagues,” Doolittle said on 106.7 The Fan on Sunday. “In doing so, it changed my perspectives on a lot of things. It made me so grateful. Spending 2009, 2010 and 2011 on the injured list in the minor leagues and being able to switch positions. It wasn’t even my idea. It was something that the farm director for the A’s kind of planted that seed in my head. And when I started that process I never thought ‘Hey, this is going to be my ticket to get to the show.’ I never put a timeline on it. You know, ‘By this date, I want to be at this level of the minor leagues.’ I just threw myself into it and I was so happy just to be back out on the field, even if it was in the Texas League in the Double-A and it was 100 degrees outside. So, making the big leagues in and of itself was just incredible. I’ve been lucky to play in the playoffs, I think, five times now.”
Paul Menhart got the call to the big leagues as pitching coach in May after the club let Derek Lilliquist go. Menhart had known many of the pitchers on the big league club for quite some time, having tutored and coached Stephen Strasburg since his first year out of the amateur draft. When he arrived, Menhart emphasized a family atmosphere and that he was going to give all-out effort to get the Nats hurlers going again.
“I think we started to build a family unit,” Menhart said. “I told them when I first met and sat down with them in Philly to introduce myself, or re-introduce myself, I wasn’t coming in here like a lion and roar and make these huge changes. What I was going to ask them to do for me and what I was going to do for them was to make myself available and for them to make themselves available to me. And we were going to get through this together. I promised them at that point that I was not going to miss a stretch, that I wasn’t going to miss a bullpen session, I wasn’t going to miss any type of scouting report meeting. Everything just started to mesh and come together and relationships started to build and we got to be more of a family.”
Menhart did not have to worry about cultivating a new relationship with Strasburg. They knew each other very well from those early days in the minors. Menhart said that Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin and Strasburg helped him out as an extension of his tutelage on and off the field.
“I got to give a lot of credit to those guys because they were my assistant coaches,” Menhart said on The Fan. “They made my job easier. They truly did. You saw the fun that we had. There were some serious times, don’t get me wrong. But out in the public eye you could see we were having a lot of fun playing the game, and that’s due to the fact that those guys are true professionals and prepared themselves so well in between their outings. We knew we were going to get the best version of them every fifth day.”
Menhart arrived trying to fix a maligned bullpen. The pitching coach said he and his relievers slowly put a plan together to become more consistent, but his bottom-line message to them was to stay together.
“The bullpen did a great job doing their daily work, and it was a magical year. We pulled for each other. It wasn’t guys that were rooting against each other that you see in other organizations. This was truly a family atmosphere.”