Updated: 9/9 at 12 p.m.
WASHINGTON — Beginning with a torn rotator cuff in January 2015, Sean Doolittle spent more time shelved with shoulder injuries than active over his final 2.5 years in Oakland. Thanks to a tweak in his bullpen preparation, however, he appears to have solved his injury problems.
“I’m constantly trying to find things. I think this year I’ve started to be more efficient with my throwing and really stress the quality over quantity,” he explained to MASN’s Mark Zuckerman. “Both playing catch before batting practice, but also in the bullpen warming up.”
Pitching in relief can be unpredictable, especially in situations where the workload of your teammates is heavily influenced by situations and matchups. You might go into a game now, or you might have to wait 30 minutes or more. Staying game-ready for that long is exhausting.
What he found is that doing less is actually more effective.
“There were times before where you get on the mound and you just throw until it’s your turn to go in the game,” Doolittle said. “If you can be more efficient and aware of the number of throws, you don’t need to throw 25 pitches down there.
“I realize I’m good now after about 10 or 12. That helps a lot.”
Doolittle has never shied away from hard work to hone his craft. At the beginning of his arm troubles in Oakland, he put in months of work rehabbing to pitch one inning, then returned to the disabled list:
With his most recent arm troubles in May, his former manager Bob Melvin praised his value to the team and hard work to return.
“We need to be careful with him,” Melvin told the media on May 3. “This is a tough loss for us. He knows the issues he has and he maintains it. He works diligently with it.”
It’s unclear when he made the change to his bullpen routine, but he hasn’t had any problems since his trade to the Nationals. For a recurring injury that could have derailed his career, a shift in mindset and routine seems to be the solution he needed.
Zuckerman notes that Doolittle pitched on consecutive nights earlier this week, something he hasn’t done in three weeks. With tight games in the playoffs, it’s critical to have a workhorse closer, but Doolittle said he isn’t concerned, thanks to the built-in travel days during the playoffs.
The Nats have a chance to clinch the National League East this weekend. With the largest division lead in the NL (18 games), they have a chance to rest players as needed, but Doolittle sounds like a candidate for a consistent schedule.