Doolittle and Zimmerman return, but in lesser roles for now

The first wave of September call-ups for the Nationals includes four players returning from injury, three position players to provide some bench depth and zero traditional relievers.

The Nats added seven players to the active roster before today’s series finale against Marlins, activating Sean Doolittle, Ryan Zimmerman, Jeremy Hellickson and Austin Voth off the injured list and recalling infielder Adrián Sanchez and outfielder Andrew Stevenson from Double-A Harrisburg, plus catcher Raudy Read from Triple-A Fresno.

The most notable additions, of course, are Doolittle and Zimmerman, who both return from injuries but not immediately to the roles they previously held.

Doolittle-Pumped-Up-After-Save-vs-MIA-White-Sidebar.jpgDoolittle, officially on the 10-day IL since Aug. 18 with right knee tendinitis but practically speaking with arm fatigue, will not reassume closer duties for now. The left-hander, after pitching in one simulated game and one rehab game for Single-A Potomac, believes he’s healthy, but doesn’t believe his velocity and crispness is where it needs to be to close out major league games.

“For now, probably stuff-wise, I’m not ready to be at the back end of a game,” he said. “But I still think I can help the team.”

Doolittle, who had a 2.72 ERA and 23 saves in 27 opportunities through his first 44 appearances of the season, gave up 12 runs and 16 hits (seven of those home runs) while blowing two saves in his final nine innings before landing on the IL two weeks ago. He is confident he’ll regain his top form soon enough, but he admits he’s not there yet.

“It’s very high,” he said. “I’ve been through this process - coming back off the IL - several times in my career. For me, it’s just part of the process. Once you get everything synced up and you get that confidence back in your body, sometimes it takes two, three or four outings for that to come back.”

Given that, manager Davey Martinez will try to find spots to ease Doolittle back in while continuing to rely on Daniel Hudson, Hunter Strickland and Fernando Rodney to close out games.

“But I told him: ‘In order for us to be super effective, we need you to be that guy again. We’ll get there. Take baby steps. You’re healthy. Just build you back up. ... But that’ll come,’ ” said Martinez. “And I need him to believe that that will happen.”

Zimmerman, meanwhile, returns to the active roster six weeks after the plantar fasciitis that had previously sidelined him for nine weeks acted up again. The 34-year-old first baseman has appeared in only 33 games this season, during which time the Nationals have seen Matt Adams, Howie Kendrick and Asdrúbal Cabrera all produce in his absence.

Given all that, Zimmerman won’t be returning to an everyday role at this point. He’ll start versus some left-handers (including today versus the Marlins’ Caleb Smith), pinch-hit and perhaps serve as a late-inning defensive replacement.

“He understands that we have other guys that are having unbelievable years, and he gets it,” Martinez said. “He just wants to part of it, and I want him to be part of it. As we all know, if Zim gets hot ... man, he can carry us for this next month.”

Zimmerman did bat .302 in the 11 games he played between IL stints, but for the season, he’s batting .246 with three homers, 15 RBIs and a .700 OPS, all while watching from the sidelines as the Nationals put together the best three-month stretch in club history.

“It’s been a brutal year,” he said. “The rest of my body feels great, and not being able to be here and play is frustrating. It’s been nice to watch them turn it around like they have. It’s made it a little bit easier when they’re winning pretty much every night. It cheers you up a little bit more. But you always want to be a part of it, you want to be in there. If not the most frustrating year, it’s up there.”

Today’s other additions were designed to provide some depth on the roster in case of potential scenarios that could arise during the final month of the season.

Hellickson (out since May 20 with a right shoulder strain) and Voth (out since July 18 with right biceps tendinitis) will give the Nationals two more long relievers in the bullpen and emergency starters in case of rain delays or doubleheaders.

Sanchez and Stevenson, who each have bounced back and forth between Washington and the minors this season, give Martinez an extra infielder and outfielder on the bench.

Read gives the Nationals a third catcher and the ability to use Kurt Suzuki as a pinch-hitter on days he doesn’t start. He got the call over Spencer Kieboom, who was on the big league roster earlier this week but must spend a full 10 days back at Harrisburg before he can be recalled again.

The Nationals, who now have 32 players on the active roster, could add more in the coming days, perhaps once Fresno and Harrisburg’s seasons are over.

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