After another sim game, Doolittle on track to return this week

It may come too late to help the Nationals make a last-ditch postseason push, but it does appear Sean Doolittle will be closing games for them for the bulk of the September schedule.

Doolittle-Deals-Gray.jpgDoolittle faced live hitters again this morning in a simulated game at Nationals Park, and barring any complications he’s likely to be activated off the disabled list within the next few days.

“He looks good,” manager Davey Martinez said. “He’ll get a day (off) tomorrow, we’ll reevaluate him and hopefully sometime in the next week he’ll be back. Hopefully early next week.”

Doolittle, out since July 7 with a stress reaction in his left foot, faced live hitters Friday afternoon, then returned to do the same this morning. He threw one simulated inning against Pedro Severino and Andrew Stevenson and was pleased with the outcome.

“It went good,” he said. “I thought it was an improvement on the other day. I was really happy about going pitch-day off-pitch and having it come out of my hand better today than it did the other day. I was really happy about that. I thought I was a little bit more consistent mechanically. And my foot, it felt pretty good. It still feels pretty good right now, too. That’s the most important part.”

If things go according to plan, Doolittle would return from a two-month DL stint without going on a rehab assignment - the minor league regular season ends Monday, so there aren’t going to be many opportunities to pitch anyway - but the reliever feels like he’s been able not only to get his foot healthy but also get his arm game-ready over the last few weeks.

“I kind of think those two things go hand-in-hand,” he said. “Last time we talked about making sure we hit all the checkpoints coming back, not cutting any corners and stuff. I really don’t know what’s next; we haven’t really mapped out anything past today. But I’m really happy with how today went. Another good day to build on.”

The Nationals have been forced to scramble to piece together the ninth inning in Doolittle’s absence. Kelvin Herrera was supposed to be a perfect replacement, but the experienced closer went on the DL with a shoulder injury and then tore the Lisfranc ligament in his left foot one week ago with two outs in the ninth in New York. Herrera had surgery Thursday to repair the ligament and will not return this season.

Ryan Madson, meanwhile, made his own DL stint with a back injury, then was traded to the Dodgers on Friday. Brandon Kintzler and Shawn Kelley also were traded, leaving rookie Koda Glover, journeyman Justin Miller and veteran Greg Holland (released by the Cardinals in midseason) filling in to varying degrees of success.

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