WASHINGTON -- As the Nationals have tried to solve their rollercoaster bullpen all season long, the lone stable reliever that has helped them remain aloft had been closer Sean Doolittle. But while Washington has discovered some stability in the bullpen this month following the Trade Deadline, Doolittle is in the midst of his roughest stretch of the season.
It left him “searching for answers” following his meltdown in the ninth inning Saturday night, leading to Washington’s marathon 15-14 loss in 14 innings to the Brewers. Doolittle could not protect a three-run lead in the ninth inning, surrendering fours runs on three homers -- to Christian Yelich, Mike Moustakas and Ryan Braun -- the first time in his career he has given up multiple homers during a single outing.
What is concerning for the Nats and Doolittle is that this was the continuation of a recent trend for their usually reliable closer. Doolittle has now surrendered seven homers in his past 10 appearances. Prior to this season, he had not given up more than six homers in any year. This was his sixth blown save of the year and his ERA ballooned to 4.33.
“We keep trying to go back to the drawing board,” Doolittle said. “We’re watching film. We’re looking at the metrics. I’m doing extra dry work before games. We’ve changed up a lot of my routine in the weight room and my maintenance programs and stuff. I don’t know, it just wasn’t coming out tonight. And that part of the order, that team, there’s really nowhere to hide.”
Doolittle is on pace for a career high in appearances and his workload is entering territory he has not experienced in years. Saturday was Doolittle’s 54th game of the year, the most he has appeared in since 2014. And he has hinted after a few recent outings that he is starting to feel fatigued, but none were more apparent than this game.
“We talked about this, this is the first time that he hasn’t missed time on the IL,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “So, we’re going to have to be conscious of that moving forward.”
Doolittle required just 13 pitches to give up four runs on four hits and his fastball averaged just 91.8 mph, a few ticks down from its normal velocity at 93.6 mph this the season. It surprised Doolittle to look up and see the radar gun so low, especially when he felt like he had more left in the tank. But after surrendering the homer to start the inning to Yelich, Doolittle promptly gave up a double to Keston Hiura, a game-tying homer to Moustakas, followed by Braun’s go-ahead dinger.
This latest shaky outing did prompted Martinez to admit he needs to have a conversation with his closer about what is next and forced Doolittle, who recorded a save with a scoreless inning the night prior, to acknowledge he might need to reassess his availability each day.
“I’m giving everything I got,” Doolittle said. “But I don’t really, I don’t know. It’s frustrating, this time of year with how well we’ve been playing lately with everything that’s at stake, everything this team can still accomplish you want to be out there, you want to help the team but I’m not really, I haven’t been pulling my weight the last couple weeks.”