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Doolittle on skid: 'I’m letting the team down'

@jessicacamerato
August 8, 2020

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals had not allowed back-to-back pinch-hit home runs since Aug. 23, 2001, when the franchise was playing in Montreal as the Expos. Nearly 19 years had passed, and the Orioles, who had not hit consecutive pinch-hit homers since Aug. 12, 1985, were about to change that. Before

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals had not allowed back-to-back pinch-hit home runs since Aug. 23, 2001, when the franchise was playing in Montreal as the Expos. Nearly 19 years had passed, and the Orioles, who had not hit consecutive pinch-hit homers since Aug. 12, 1985, were about to change that.

Before Saturday night ended in a 5-3 loss to Baltimore at Nationals Park, Washington was just six outs away from a shutout, cruising behind a solid five-inning start by Austin Voth and commanding relief appearances by Javy Guerra and Tanner Rainey. A lot can happen in six outs, though.

Box score

“We’re up 3-0,” manager Dave Martinez said. “I knew they were going to pinch-hit for the two lefties. I thought that was the perfect spot for Doo.”

Sean Doolittle entered the game in the eighth inning, staked to a 3-0 lead -- a decent sized cushion even if his lingering velocity struggles crept in. Martinez has expressed confidence in the high-leverage lefty, but the Orioles wouldn’t be so forgiving.

Doolittle was hit around for back-to-back home runs by pinch-hitters Pat Valaika and Pedro Severino. Valaika rocked a 81.4 mph splitter a Statcast-projected 396 feet to left field, and Severino sent a first-pitch 89.4 mph fastball 412 feet in the same direction. Doolittle's fastball maxed out at 90.4 mph, averaging 89.9 mph in the nine-pitch appearance. His ERA jumped to 18.00 as he allowed multiple home runs in a game for just the second time in his nine-year career.

“I feel terrible,” Doolittle said. “I’m letting the team down.”

Doolittle said he physically feels good, but the pitches he’s spent hours working on at the park and through film study are not coming out as intended. Unlike last August, when he went on the injured list with right knee tendinitis, he said he has not thought about stepping away.

“I want to help,” Doolittle said. “I want to be a part of that group, and right now it just hasn’t come together. It’s incredibly frustrating.”

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Martinez reiterated he is “not going to give up” on Doolittle. He kept the 33-year-old in the game to face Chris Davis after the homers, resulting in a strikeout. Martinez then turned to Daniel Hudson, who has been reliable in the closer role this season, for a five-out save. Instead of ending the eighth-inning mess, he immediately allowed a walk and a single, setting the stage for Anthony Santander's three-run homer to reverse the course of the game and hand the Nats a series loss in the Battle of the Beltways.

“I felt good in the bullpen warming up,” Hudson said. “I didn’t know that ball was going to be fair that Santander hit. It looked like it kind of beat him, and it just kept going. Tip your cap, try to go out tomorrow and be better.”

The Nationals' bullpen has been hampered early this season, with southpaw Roenis Elías placed on the 60-day IL (left flexor elbow strain), Will Harris -- who was signed to a three-year deal this winter to bolster the back-end of the 'pen -- still on on the 10-day IL (right groin injury) and Wander Suero not reinstated from the IL until Monday. Washington is getting closer to having Harris, who led American League relievers with a 1.50 ERA last season, back; he has been throwing off the mound and is scheduled for a side session on Sunday. In the meantime, pitchers like Guerra, Rainey, Ryne Harper, Kyle Finnegan and Sam Freeman have stepped in.

“It’s difficult, because I know Sean probably feels the same,” Hudson said. “I definitely feel like we spoiled a pretty good outing from Austin there. Javy and Tanner coming in and being lights-out like they were, I feel like I kind of let those guys down. It’s difficult to try to put any specific words on it, and not to get too cliché, but that’s why we play again tomorrow.”

Jessica Camerato covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @jessicacamerato, Facebook and Instagram.