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'Law Firm' trio locking down games since '17

Kintzler, Madson and Doolittle strengthened back end of bullpen
MLB.com @JamalCollier

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- "Just three boring reliever dudes" is how a smiling Ryan Madson described the Nationals' bullpen trio consisting of him, Brandon Kintzler and Sean Doolittle.

The pitchers were saviors after being acquired midseason last year and transforming a struggling Washington relief corps into a strength down the stretch. They have been nicknamed the "Law Firm" by Nationals fans who embraced their arrival and the club that held a T-shirt giveaway in August with the phrase "Defending leads since 2017."

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- "Just three boring reliever dudes" is how a smiling Ryan Madson described the Nationals' bullpen trio consisting of him, Brandon Kintzler and Sean Doolittle.

The pitchers were saviors after being acquired midseason last year and transforming a struggling Washington relief corps into a strength down the stretch. They have been nicknamed the "Law Firm" by Nationals fans who embraced their arrival and the club that held a T-shirt giveaway in August with the phrase "Defending leads since 2017."

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After years of entering the season with uncertainty at the back end of the bullpen, Washington has stability behind the arms of Madson, Kintzler and Doolittle.

There are a lot of ways to describe that trio, but it is anything but boring.

"We're all pretty different," Doolittle said, "but we work really well together."

Tweet from @Nationals: Just what K Street needed:Another law firm. https://t.co/ah2GA8JrsQ pic.twitter.com/pLuJxjawuA

Consider their unorthodox paths to get to this point.

Kintzler pitched in the Independent League for three seasons, had his career derailed by knee injuries and was designated for assignment before he eventually became an All-Star closer last season. Madson missed three seasons in the middle of his career while recovering from Tommy John surgery and is throwing harder than he ever has before at the age of 37. Doolittle was drafted as a first baseman/outfielder before missing more than two years rehabbing from knee surgery and sticking as an effective reliever.

"That kind of embodies the three of us," Doolittle said. "We've all had kind of interesting career arcs. … We just want to win. We don't care who pitches the seventh, the eighth, the ninth or whatever. We just want to win."

They all arrived in Washington with an unselfish attitude and willingness to pitch in whatever inning necessary. Madson and Doolittle were teammates in Oakland and came to Washington together in a trade a few weeks before Kintzler. Neither knew much about Kintzler, aside from the few times seeing him from across the field. It did not take long for them to get acquainted.

"He's going to get in the mix, whatever's going on," Madson said. "So it's easy to get to know him. He's easy to make fun of, but he'll get you right back. Great personality. We like to play off that."

Video: WSH@NYM: Kintzler locks the Nats' win on 29th save

Doolittle was initially the closer but admitted he thought Kintzler was going to take over the job when he saw the trade. He was happy to cede the role as well, but Kintzler happily slotted into the seventh inning.

Doolittle recalled the first week after Kintzler arrived in Washington, when he was already going around the weight room offering critiques and suggestions.

"One thing about Kintzler, you're always going to know exactly where you stand with him," Doolittle said laughing. "He doesn't sugarcoat anything. It's kind of like, who is this guy? I know he was an All-Star closer and all … but the guys have come to respect him. It comes from a place where he wants everybody to be the best they can possibly be."

Even Doolittle takes tips from Kintzler now on his workout and maintenance routine because they both battled knee injuries earlier in their careers. When they match up as throwing partners, they are often experimenting with different pitches and pitch grips and getting honest feedback.

"I'll talk trash and keep you on your toes," Kintzler said.

The way all three pitchers have helped each other has been one of the most enjoyable parts of the experience for Doolittle.

"The three of us have very contrasting styles," Doolittle said. "But there's still been stuff we've all been able to learn from each other, and that's helped us kind of elevate our games."

Video: WSH@CHC Gm4: Dootlittle fans Russell to seal the win

When Kintzler re-signed with the Nats this past offseason, Doolittle was one of the first people he texted. Kintzler said he would have reached out to Madson, but "he has like 10 kids, so I didn't want to bother him." (Madson has five.)

"I thought about it a lot. I wanted to be a part of what I think could be something special," Kintzler said. "Just being around them last year, we had so much fun."

Madson is the veteran of the bunch and the only one with World Series experience. He has developed a routine that works for him and allows him to be so effective, using the Accelerated Performance Machine in the clubhouse before games since 2013. It provides his muscles with electric stimulation.

"I call it the time machine," Doolittle said.

Both his fellow relievers expressed admiration for Madson's pitch arsenal -- "he's got all the best pitches," Kintzler said -- but also for his under-the-radar personality.

Video: WSH@CHC Gm4: Madson retires Rizzo to end the 8th

"He's the Godfather, but he's also probably the funniest," Kintzler said. "Very personable guy, very approachable. Obviously he's been through a lot, been around a long time, and he's willing to help a lot of guys, too."

Added Doolittle: "He's a lot quieter, but the thing I noticed about him right away is how much he loves being here and playing the game. Taking three years off will change your perspective a little bit."

Doolittle considers himself the facilitator, the one who asks both Madson and Kintzler questions to get them to share their insights and experiences. And also as the person who has to reel in Kintzler's opinionated personality from time to time.

"I really thought Doolittle was going to be this crazy, animal-like, high-adrenaline type of guy," Kintzler said. "Total opposite. He's like a really, really nice, genuine guy. That totally caught me off guard.

"He's sneaky funny, and he sneaky insults you. It's actually really good. He keeps me in my place."

Tweet from @whatwouldDOOdo: having so much fun at baseball camp! today we worked on pitching ������🏌��������� pic.twitter.com/gCvjAicjfw

It is likely Washington will heavily lean on all three relievers this season. The club's bullpen depth behind them has some question marks. Right-handers Joaquin Benoit and Koda Glover have been shut down with a right forearm strain and right shoulder strain, respectively. Lefty Sammy Solis and righty Shawn Kelley have lengthy injury histories of their own.

So the Nationals are happy to once again be able to count on having the "Law Firm" back together again, a nickname all three pitchers said they enjoy. They hope to continue securing leads all season.

"Anytime they want to give you a positive nickname, I'll take it," Kintzler said. "Because relievers, one outing and it turns into a lot of negativity for us. Obviously, everyone thinks we're good relievers and a good trio, and I think we proved that last year."

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals, Sean Doolittle, Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson