Nats Notebook: UVA alum Sean Doolittle talks NLCS
Q. Sean, in August when you went to the IL, some of the discussion was about how you hadn’t been that healthy that late in the season in a while. How are you feeling now in the middle of October, and what kinds of things are you doing to get your arm to the finish line, since this has been a heavy workload the last two weeks?
SEAN DOOLITTLE: I feel a lot better than I did at that time back in August. I think that time off that I had when I was on the IL, even though it was two weeks, it was a really good reset for my body. It allowed me to — like we had talked about back then, the strengthening work that we did for my right leg — I was dealing with that tendinitis in my knee — and it’s allowed me to get into such a better position mechanically on the mound, and I think over the last few weeks, my stuff has really started to come back and I’ve been able to throw the ball with a lot more confidence here.
So fortunately, the timing worked out right, and there’s a whole kind of litany of maintenance exercises that I have to do to keep my knee in a good spot, but fortunately, I’ve been feeling pretty good.
Q. Does it almost make you think that, to stretch yourself an extra three or four weeks, it’s almost necessary maybe to take a two-week break at some point? Do you think that at all?
SEAN DOOLITTLE: It didn’t hurt. Yeah, it didn’t hurt. It might have been good for my arm to catch that time off, as well. Obviously, it wasn’t ideal. You never want to end up on the IL, but I’m very lucky that the strength coaches and the medical staff here really helped me get my body right for the stretch run. The adrenaline in the playoffs also really helps.
Q. So if you sat down before this series started and thought what would a perfect road map for the first two games look like, would it look like exactly what happened?
SEAN DOOLITTLE: Oh, my gosh. I don’t even think — it almost — it almost — I don’t want to say it was like unrealistic, but that would have felt like maybe too much to ask even for like a best case scenario. You have your two starters take no hitters past the seventh inning, and we get some timely hitting and come out of there with both games, I mean, that is absolutely — we literally couldn’t have scripted it any better.
Q. And what do you make of — what is he — $140 million LOOGY, Patrick Corbin.
SEAN DOOLITTLE: Yeah, man, I was joking with him that after Game 5. I told him, you’re more than welcome down in the bullpen anytime. During Game 5, he really got a taste of bullpen life. He had warmed up, I think, three times before he went into the game, but then he went in the game, and he was absolutely lights out. His stuff was electric.
I was joking with him, once we found out he was going to be in the bullpen for Game 2, that he was an adrenaline junkie, and now he can’t get enough of it. Like I said, we’re more than happy to have him or any of those guys down there for that matter.
Q. Hey, Sean, to follow up on what you said earlier, was there a moment or a game that you really felt — that you kind of like crept through your stuff, where you felt like, that’s it. I’m back.
SEAN DOOLITTLE: The one that comes to mind the most is I got a save opportunity against the Phillies during the last home stand, and I think it was the — I don’t remember the date. I don’t know what today is even, so there’s no way I remember what day that was, but it was the day after we clinched, I think. I struck out three guys, and that was the most swings and misses that I had gotten on my fastball. The late life was definitely there.
That was the outing where I first really felt like my stuff was back, but even then, like it had been a little inconsistent because my next outing after that was against the Indians. It went okay. I gave up a home run, but I wasn’t missing bats like I was. I wasn’t getting the swings and misses.
I think really, to be honest with you, the first game against the Dodgers in the Division Series was when I really felt like I had my stuff back. Even though Muncy clipped me, I was really happy with how I was moving the ball around and the late life that it had. Even, since the playoffs have started, I’ve even gone back and watched that outing against the Phillies, as well, just to kind of keep it in the front of my mind.
It’s been a process, but fortunately, we’re getting it at the right time.
Q. Sean, Michael Taylor said he appreciated you giving him a hug after the misplay yesterday. Obviously, a home run is one thing, but how do you reset as a pitcher when a play you might assume is going to be made doesn’t get made behind you and then try to get back to pitching?
SEAN DOOLITTLE: I think, in that situation, what I was trying to do there was control my energy and my emotion because that was really the first time, I think, that the stadium had really gotten loud. The fans were really into it. I think they felt like — they had just scored a run, and they had a runner in scoring position, and there was a sense to pull even closer or even try to tie the game right there.
So I went right into two-strike mode with the first pitch that I threw to Fowler, expanding — I was trying to expand up above the zone on the outer portion of the plate because I was approaching that at-bat like they were smelling blood in the water. They saw an opportunity, and they wanted to pounce on it. So I was trying to exploit that energy and that aggressiveness right there.
But so oftentimes in the playoffs, the biggest thing you can do is remain calm. Try to avoid those crooked numbers by just press and reset, taking a little bit of time to gather yourself, and go back to work.
Q. Sean, what’s the confidence level out in the bullpen when you see the starting pitchers pitching the way they do and knowing really how few outs there are to get given how long these guys have been going in the games?
SEAN DOOLITTLE: It’s huge. It kind of puts everybody at ease a little bit when you just see the way that they’re setting a tone by attacking the other team. They’re working quick. They’re getting quick outs. They’re constantly ahead in counts. Those kinds of things are kind of things that, when you’re down there in the bullpen, you see that, and you feed off that energy. So when your number gets called, you basically want to do the same thing. You want to pick up where they left off and get the ball to the next guy.
As far as them going deep into games, it makes our job so much easier because we start to think about it like a countdown of outs. I think sometimes, you’re super worried about the situation in the game or some of the bigger picture things, but if they’re going seven innings and then all we’ve got to do is figure out a way to get six outs. Piece that together, find a way to get six outs, or the other night, Game 1, it was four outs. Just figure out how to get it done. It makes our job so much easier and gives us a better chance coming into the game.
Q. What did you know about Hudson when you guys got him? Did you know he was this good?
SEAN DOOLITTLE: I did not know he was this good. I didn’t really know that much about him, to be honest. We never really saw much of each other because I was in the American League and he spent so much time in the National League between the Diamondbacks and the Pirates and Dodgers. I knew he threw really, really hard, and I know that we had overlapped. We played against each other when we were in the college, when he was at ODU and I was at UVA.
I knew a little bit about his story, that he had pretty much back-to-back Tommy John surgeries, and as a guy that spent a lot of time on the IL throughout the course of his career, I have a ton of respect for guys that have to battle back from stuff like that. I don’t know, I think this year he’s taken his game to a whole new level. I think he’s made some adjustments with his sequences. He’s mentioned that he’s thrown his four-seam fastball more across the top of the zone. I think in past years, he’d been more of a sinker guy.
I can’t say enough about what an awesome addition he’s been to our bullpen and to our clubhouse, obviously, stabilizing the bullpen and picking us up down there more times than we can count. But he’s an awesome teammate, and we’re really lucky to have him.