Facing season's close, FA, Doolittle hits IL

Martinez on playing after 9/11: 'Never forget a moment like that'

September 11th, 2020

WASHINGTON -- Just when ’s season was turning around, he suffered another setback. The Nationals placed the veteran reliever on the 10-day injured list with a right oblique strain on Friday, a day after exiting a ninth-inning appearance in a loss to the Braves after three pitches.

Washington recalled lefty , its No. 24 prospect per MLB Pipeline, from its alternate training site in Fredericksburg, Va., in a corresponding move.

“[I feel] awful,” Martinez said. “I talked to him last night before he left. I sat up last night thinking about him for about a few hours. He was coming back. He was doing well. We went through a lot this year with him knowing that he wanted to help us win and he wanted to get back to his form. We felt like he was there.”

Doolittle’s ninth Major League season got off to a rocky start. His velocity had dropped and he struggled to find a rhythm on the mound. His ERA ballooned to 15.00 before the Nats put him on the 10-day IL with right knee fatigue on Aug. 13, retroactive to Aug. 11.

Doolittle went to the alternate training site willing to put in the work. He focused on trusting his body more and overcorrecting less. He also strove to block out the doubts that had set in when he wasn't seeing results.

“There were some dark times, man. I’m not going to lie,” Doolittle said on Aug. 30. “I was searching. I didn’t have a lot of answers.”

Doolittle looked rejuvenated after his return. He proceeded to make six relief appearances, notably striking out two in a scoreless frame in the Nats’ win against the Rays on Tuesday. His ERA had dropped drastically to 5.87, and he was giving Washington a reliable late-inning arm as it eyed a playoff push.

But that progress was halted on Thursday, when Doolittle motioned for the trainer and walked gingerly off the field. Martinez noted Doolittle takes “unbelievable care” of his body, making the oblique injury that much more frustrating.

“This just stinks for him -- and for us,” Martinez said. “I just hope he recovers, gets better and continues to do what he does, because he’s going to be the pitcher that he was before. I know that. He’s worked so hard to get back there.”

With just over two weeks left in the regular season and a playoff berth in question, the uncertainty of Doolittle’s injury goes past 10 days on the IL. Like infielder/designated hitter Howie Kendrick, who was placed on the 10-day injured list on Wednesday (retroactive to Sunday) because of a left hamstring strain, it is unclear if Doolittle will play for the Nationals again this season -- or beyond. Both veterans are free agents after this year, and Martinez was emotional when asked about their futures with the team.

“I try not to think about it because it is sad,” Martinez said, pausing. “When we get there, then I’ll -- but right now, I don’t want to think about it. As you know, I love these guys.”

Martinez reflects on 9/11
On the 19th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, Martinez reflected on taking part in the first game played in New York following 9/11. At the time, he was a member of the Braves, and they took the field against the Mets at Shea Stadium on Sept. 21, 2001. Martinez was at first base when Mike Piazza hit his iconic home run.

“The memories are still vivid, for sure. You never forget a moment like that,” Martinez said. “The somber mood in New York while we were there, you’ll never forget that. Ground Zero, we went down there, visited, talked to firefighters, police officers. I’ll never forget that. We’ll all never forget that.

“Here we are, 19 years later, talking about being united again. You’ve got to love this country, and people [have] got to pull together. We said that 19 years ago, and now -- more so than ever -- we’ve got to stand together.”

Soto remains the DH
was in the designated hitter role for the third straight game on Friday after missing five contests with left elbow soreness. The team is being cautious with the slugger and wants to get him deeper into his throwing program before he returns to left field. got another start in left, and 32-year-old rookie could see his first career start there on Saturday.

“It’s nice that he’s able to hit right now, but we’ve got to work him back into getting him out on that field,” Martinez said of Soto. “Honestly, he’s not a big fan of DHing. He loves to play the field.”