WASHINGTON -- The day Sean Doolittle first landed on the disabled list in July, just days before the All-Star break, he jokingly mentioned pitching in the game as his Minor League rehab assignment, a sign of his confidence that he would not be sidelined for long.He would never have imagined
WASHINGTON -- The day Sean Doolittle first landed on the disabled list in July, just days before the All-Star break, he jokingly mentioned pitching in the game as his Minor League rehab assignment, a sign of his confidence that he would not be sidelined for long.
He would never have imagined he would have to wait nearly two months to the day of his last outing, to be activated because of a stress reaction in his left foot.
"Every DL stint is tough mentally for different reasons," said Doolittle, who was activated prior to Friday night's game against the Cubs at Nationals Park. "To have to kind of be on the sidelines and watch kind of the way the second half of the season unfolded for us and not be able to contribute, not be out there with the guys, was really tough. I'm really excited to be back."
Before the injury, Doolittle was in the midst of a career year. He posted a 1.45 ERA and 22 saves in 35 appearances with 49 strikeouts and three walks in 37 1/3 innings en route to making the National League All-Star team. He will resume his duties in the closer's role.
The Nationals' bullpen struggled in Doolittle's absence, posting a 4.72 ERA since the start of the second half, the fourth-worst ERA in the NL, after its 3.64 ERA was the fourth best in the NL in the first half. Those bullpen struggles ended up being one of the reasons Washington never got on the hot streak it hoped for in the second half.
"I was feeling really good and pitching better than I have in my career," Doolittle said. "If you would have told me when I came out of that game that night that I was going to have to wait two months to get to do that again, I would have said you were crazy."
Doolittle did not have time to complete a rehab assignment, but he threw three simulated games in the past week to test his foot. He spent some extra time during the past week to make sure his foot was 100 percent, throwing an extra sim game and a bullpen session to ensure he had no lingering discomfort.
And to be sure he was not altering his mechanics in any way, Doolittle compared video footage of himself on the mound and checked the numbers on his release point and various other pitching mechanics, all to be sure he was not jeopardizing his return.
"To prove to myself that I'm healthy, to end the season on a good note, I don't know. I've just been really thinking about getting back out there and competing," Doolittle said.
"I just wanna finish the season healthy."
Hellickson nearing return
Right-hander Jeremy Hellickson threw 50 pitches over three innings during a simulated game on Friday afternoon at Nationals Park, his biggest test since landing on the DL with a wrist injury. His next step will be to throw a bullpen on Sunday, but he appears ready to be activated soon.
How exactly the Nats utilize Hellickson once he returns remains to be seen. Their rotation is currently full with Joe Ross and Erick Fedde inserted in this month after coming off the DL. The organization wants to see those young starters get innings to prove they are healthy and can perform next season.
Manager Dave Martinez said he will not utilize a six-man rotation, so it is possible Hellickson, who is slated to be a free agent at season's send, might have to pitch out of the bullpen when he returns.
"It would just be nice to get back out there and face hitters again before the year is over," Hellickson said.
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.