Doolittle plans to tinker with slider during spring

February 21st, 2018

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Nationals closer has always been a pitcher who relies heavily on his fastball, throwing it about 87.7 percent of the time. Early in his career, he used a slider a lot more frequently, peaking at 11.3 percent of the time in 2014, but that number dropped to 5.2 percent in '17.

This season, he wants to start throwing his slider more frequently. Doolittle plans to spend the spring tinkering with his slider, trying to find a grip comfortable enough to regain his confidence in the pitch.

"I think it's just something that will make me a little bit more of an efficient, complete pitcher," he said.

Doolittle is working with new pitching coach Derek Lilliquist, who has developed a reputation for teaching pitchers a slider. Doolittle said he has not gotten a good feel for the grip Lilliquist uses but has still been able to pull from Lilliquist's knowledge and experience.

The primary challenge for Doolittle is finding a grip that works for him. He said he struggles to manipulate the ball with just his hand, so the key for him is a grip that feels like a fastball in his hand.

"It's basically finding a grip that feels comfortable in my hand where I can just let the grip do the work and I don't have to do too much with it," Doolittle said.

Teens tell Doolittle he looks like Seth Rogen

It's a change Doolittle believes he will stick with. When he arrived in Washington in the middle of last season, Doolittle recalled being in a tough spot during a game and having catcher Matt Wieters call for a changeup, another pitch he had started to use less frequently.

At first, Doolittle was hesitant. But he realized Wieters was not going to back down, so Doolittle threw it and it worked. After a couple outings, he started to trust his changeup again and threw it a career-high 7.1 percent of the time in 2017.

He believes the same can be true for his slider once he starts throwing it in games.

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"Spring Training, that's a good opportunity for me to work on that slider in a game setting," Doolittle said. "You're gonna get feedback on it when you throw it in a game to live hitters. I know I can throw it in the bullpen, but it's a little bit different when you have a hitter standing in."

Full go

A pleasant surprise for the Nationals as position players took the field for Tuesday's voluntary workout was how much activity left fielder participated in. Eaton did not appear to be limited in any way during the workout.

He took fly balls in left field, went through defensive drills and hit during batting practice. It is an encouraging sign for Eaton as he works his way back from a torn ACL in April, and an encouraging sign for the Nationals, who expect Eaton to be in the Opening Day lineup.

"He's coming along," Nats manager Dave Martinez said. "And you guys know Adam. He wants to play tomorrow if he could. But like I said, for us, it's about getting ready for Opening Day and we'll take one day at a time. He's progression is great. He worked out with the outfielders. He felt really part of the team today taking BP and everything."

Benoit already in camp

Although his signing is not yet official, new Nationals right-hander was already at camp Tuesday afternoon, in full uniform and throwing off a mound. Not bad for a player who reached his agreement with the Nats on Monday pending a physical, which he took Tuesday.

"Last year when he was with the Phillies, he threw 95 mph, and he's got a really good changeup," Martinez said. "We're hoping that that's what we get out of him. He said he feels great. I watched him throw a long toss and his arm action was really, really good. We're excited that he's here."