Sean Doolittle insisted before Saturday night’s game, he was good to pitch. As soon as he actually tried to pitch in the top of the ninth, he realized he didn’t have what he needed to be effective.
“Tonight, man, I just didn’t have anything,” the Nationals closer said. “So, yeah, we’re going to have to figure something out. I’m going to have to figure something out. Because this team, they deserve better right now.”
What had been looming as a potential problem for a while now has officially become a problem. Doolittle, who gave up three homers in blowing the save Saturday night in what eventually would become a 15-14 loss to the Brewers in 14 innings, seems pretty clearly to be running on fumes at this stage of the season.
He has allowed seven homers in his last 10 appearances. He’s been scored upon in three of his last five games. He has seen his ERA, which stood at 2.81 only 12 days ago, skyrocket to 4.33.
And the culprit, he figures, is his excessive workload to date. He has now made 54 appearances in 122 team games, his highest total since 2014 and on track to set a new career high.
Doolittle and manager Davey Martinez hoped three days off earlier in the week would make a difference. And it did when he pitched a scoreless ninth during Friday night’s win.
“We had a conversation before the off-day, and we really hoped that those three days ... that I’d come back feeling good,” he said. “And I felt great last night. That’s the best I’ve felt in several weeks.”
But that feeling was gone Saturday night.
Martinez didn’t have to pitch Doolittle. Up three runs in the ninth, he could have turned to someone else from his bullpen. But he was trying to stay away from Daniel Hudson, who has appeared in 10 of the Nationals’ 14 games since his acquisition. And his only other option at that point would have been rookie Tanner Rainey, who did impress in the 10th and 11th innings but has never closed in the big leagues.
“Look, a three-run lead, that’s your closer,” Martinez said. “I put him in with a one-run lead the other day, he did a great job.”
But Martinez acknowledged he may have to start treating these situations differently, and he plans to meet with Doolittle this morning and hash out a plan moving forward.
Doolittle prides himself on being available whenever needed, but he may have to change the way he thinks about his availability.
“I think so at this point,” the lefty said. “I mean, I’m giving everything I’ve got. But I don’t know. It’s really, really tough. It’s frustrating. This time of year, with how well we’ve been playing, with everything at stake, with everything this team can still accomplish, you want to be out there. You want to help the team. But I haven’t been pulling my weight here these last couple weeks.”