Back with Nats after 'gap year,' Doolittle wants to prove himself

March 17th, 2022

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- has a term for the 2021 season he spent apart from the Nationals.

“I took a gap year,” he said. “Went and tried some new things, experimented a little bit. But now I'm back.”

The 35-year-old lefty reliever rejoined the Nats on a one-year deal, which the club made official on Wednesday. He was a member of their bullpen from 2017-20 before becoming a free agent and pitching for the Reds and Mariners last season.

Doolittle’s time in Washington that was headlined by 2019 World Series championship lore also included a disappointing ‘20 season that ended with a dip in his velocity, an increase in his ERA and a right oblique strain. That version of a curly ‘W’ finale didn’t sit well with him.

“I always kind of hoped that I would have the opportunity to come back one day, because I wasn't happy with 2020,” he said. “The pandemic, it was what it was. The season was what it was. But my personal performance, I was really unhappy with, and it's almost like I didn't want my time here to end on that note.

“So I'm really looking forward to showing this organization and the guys in this room and Nats fans that I still got something left in the tank. That's been a huge motivating factor for me over this last offseason, to continue the momentum I had at the end of 2021 and really go out and perform this year."

Doolittle was welcomed back to the organization with a Major League contract and enthusiastic greetings when he entered the clubhouse at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. He received offers from other clubs, but when the Nats called, it didn’t take long to reach an agreement to return to the place that “really does feel like home” for him and his wife, Eireann Dolan.

“We have a great relationship with Doo, and we know what he can do when he’s healthy,” said manager Dave Martinez. “Honestly, he’s one of my favorites. … Last year, we kept an eye on him, we watched him get his velo back, so we definitely think he can help us.”

Following a 2020 performance in which Doolittle’s ERA reached a career-high 5.87, he worked to improve his effectiveness last season. Notably, he boosted the velocity of his fastball from 90.7 mph to 93.1 mph in ‘21. Doolittle finished the season with a cumulative 4.53 ERA across two clubs.

“I was really encouraged by my progression over the course of the season last year,” he said. “It was a little bit of a rollercoaster, especially early, but I think I ended throwing the ball really well. So I'm really excited to pick up where I left off."

Although Doolittle is playing again with several of his teammates from the 2019 World Series squad -- including returning fellow veterans Aníbal Sánchez (Minor League deal) and Gerardo Parra (Spring Training non-roster invitee) -- he emphasized this reunion is not “a homecoming” nor is it a “victory lap 2019 nostalgia tour.” 2022 is a new season for Doolittle, one in which he feels he still has a lot to prove.

“I'll still be in attack mode, I'm still going to pitch with a lot of emotion, I'm still going to compete my butt off and give this organization everything I've got,” Doolittle said. “I'm really grateful to be back here and have another chance to put this uniform on. I think even more so now, I realize how lucky I am to have this opportunity to play here.

“I want it really bad. I want to perform for this team and for the fans."