Despite their recent team success, the Washington Nationals still have a big problem with the overuse of their closer Sean Doolittle.
As a team, things could not be going much better for the Washington Nationals. A team that was left for dead by many, including myself, after a 19-31 first two months of the season, has mad a complete turnaround to reach .500 before July 1.
Washington is only the seventh team in Major League Baseball history to come back from 12 games under and reach the .500 mark before the first of July. Their offense has come alive, the starting pitching has been dominant, and even the bullpen has started to perform much better than they did at the start of the season.
All in all, things are going about as well as they could for the Nationals, but one big problem still remains. The team’s best pitcher in their bullpen, All-Star closer Sean Doolittle, who singlehandedly held the bullpen together for the first part of the season, is being greatly overused.
Last season, despite missing about two months to injury, Doolittle appeared in 43 games for Washington. In 2017, the year he was acquired from the Oakland A’s, he appeared in 53 games total on the season combined between both clubs.
This year, we stand at just June 28 and Doolittle has already appeared in 35 games, and is on his way to breaking his career record of 70 appearances set back in 2013. The All-Star closer was 26 at that time, six years younger than he is today, and had not had the shoulder injury that forced him to miss almost all of the 2015 season yet.
The past two nights have been a perfect example of how the Nationals have misused Doolittle. On Wednesday night, Washington had a 7-2 lead with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the ninth. The Nationals needed just one out to finish off this game, something many relievers including Tanner Rainey, Johnny Venters, or Wander Suero could have been called upon to do, but manager Dave Martinez went with Doolittle to get the final out.
Last night, Washington led 8-4 heading into the ninth inning, had Rainey and Venters rested and ready to go, but Martinez decided to use Doolittle once again. As he usually does, Doolittle was able to get out of a minor jam and close out the game, but now after pitching two days in a row, he is likely unavailable to pitch tonight in Detroit.
As a team, the Nationals are having great success, but the overuse of Sean Doolittle is something that could hold them back as they make a run at reaching the postseason. With this much workload, a reliever cannot hold up an entire season, so if Washington wants a fresh and rested Doolittle at seasons end something has to change.