ST. LOUIS - OK, so it’s not quite the addition to the Nationals bullpen everyone is looking for at this perilous moment in a season on the brink. But if the club’s new bullpen cart can bring some smiles to people’s faces and maybe even help relievers save some energy before they enter to pitch, this could prove to be an important late-summer acquisition after all.
The Nats are set to unveil the “WGL Energy Bullpen Cart” later today and make it available for use by relievers from both teams in tonight’s series opener against the Marlins on South Capitol Street.
The design hasn’t been released to the public yet, but it is expected to closely resemble the Diamondbacks’ bullpen cart used by three Nationals relievers during their May series in Arizona. Essentially, it’s a golf cart with a giant curly W cap on the roof.
Bullpen carts used to be commonplace around the sport in the 1970s and ’80s, but they disappeared altogether after the 1995 season until the Diamondbacks made news by bringing them back this spring. The Tigers followed suit, and now the Nationals become the third major league team to use one.
The idea has been in the works for a while, but it probably helped become reality after Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson and Brandon Kintzler all rode the cart in Arizona and spoke highly of the experience.
“They didn’t really come to me for any advice,” Doolittle said. “I’d like to think that when a bunch of us took it in Arizona, I’d like to think that played into it a little bit. But I really don’t know.”
There are two bullpen carts at Chase Field, one for each team. There will be only one at Nationals Park, and it will enter from the opening in the center field wall where the Racing Presidents also appear during their nightly contest, then head to whichever bullpen has a reliever entering the game, pick him up and drive him around the warning track before dropping him off in front of his team’s dugout.
Relievers are under no obligation to actually use the cart, and the early sense is that only two members of the Nationals’ current bullpen (Doolittle and fellow lefty Tim Collins) plan to partake.
Doolittle hopes to convince others to join in, though, because he sincerely believes there is a benefit to the ride.
“I’m going to try to sell it on them,” said the closer, currently rehabbing from a foot injury. “A bunch of guys, they were excited about the idea of it, initially. But when I was like, ‘Are you going to take it?’ they were like, ‘No.’ ‘Why not?’ And they were like, ‘I don’t like it.’ ‘Well, have you ever done it? Because I know for a fact there’s only one guy in this room that’s ever done it. And he really liked it.’ And they’re like, ‘I just think it would be weird.’ That’s not a good enough reason.
“You’ve got to try it. I think there’s a practical application to it. Especially in D.C. We’re winding down now, but the summer months, it gets so humid. You’re coming into a game in a big spot, the sweat’s already dripping off your hat and everything. The air’s so thick you’ve got to move it out of the way to start running in from the bullpen. It’s just way easier to do it that way. You’re not out of breath. You don’t feel rushed when you get out there. You can go at your own pace and manage your energy level a little different.”