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Davey Martinez says Sean Doolittle remains Nationals closer

Davey Martinez says Sean Doolittle remains Nationals closer

WASHINGTON -- Sean Doolittle feels better, which is the first step in all of this, and the priority from the start.

His brain and left arm are feeling more vibrant. A three-day break when he first went on the injured list Aug, 18 helped regenerate both. They needed it. Doolittle’s arm was worn down from throwing pitches. His brain became fatigued when those pitches were being smashed around the park and he could not find a remedy for the cause. 

The break is almost over. Doolittle expects to be activated this weekend when Miami is in town. When he does return, Davey Martinez says the reliever’s role will remain the same as it has been for two years. 

“Moving forward, Doolittle will be our closer,” Martinez said Tuesday.

Returning to that spot still includes further action. Doolittle is scheduled to throw a simulation game Wednesday. He hopes for expanded feedback and 30, 35 pitches from the process. Doolittle thinks his fastball was crisp during three bullpen sessions since being on the injured list. Facing hitters will give him a better read. 

“I’ve been staying pretty busy,” Doolittle said. “Kind of the general overall philosophy we’ve been working with is rather than sitting around and letting it rest. I think the best way to handle this was to kind of like kickstart the engine a little bit."

Posture, quad strengthening and his drive from the mound have been focuses. They also feed each other. Doolittle felt he was rolling through his windup in part because of the knee tendinitis listed as the official reason he went on the injured list. Putting his right foot in the ground when leading to home plate hurt. He slouched. His hand dropped behind the ball, pushing it more than snapping it toward the plate.

The result was fastballs with less rotation and bad location. Doolittle’s ERA rocketed up. His position as closer came into question. 

Martinez has remained steady in his assertion Doolittle is the team’s closer. Where he’s wavered is defining what, precisely, that means for the rest of the season. 

Daniel Hudson has operated as the de-facto closer in Doolittle’s absence. Hunter Strickland has pitched well. Wander Suero and Fernando Rodney have their good moments mixed with their bad. Roenis Elias threw a bullpen session Tuesday and could also throw a simulation game Wednesday. Which means Martinez has options.

Those choices allow him to rest Doolittle more or use him in a more creative capacity. And by Sunday, more arms should be in the bullpen when rosters expand Sept. 1. Which means a challenge arises the rest of the way for Martinez: With so many important games on the horizon, how does he balance Doolittle’s usage with the requirements of a September push? Part of the reason Doolittle felt fatigued is because of how hard he was pushed to help the Nationals hang on, then turn the season. Grinding through taxed his mind.

“I kind of needed a mental break,” Doolittle said. “That two-week stretch there was really rough. All through that process, I was looking for answers. I was trying to find things and make adjustments and none of them were working. So, when you’re spinning your wheels like that, it’s a really helpless feeling. You’re searching for answers and don’t really know how to fix it or where there fix is going to from. So, to press pause and get my body right helped me a lot mentally as well. I’m in a much, much better place mentally right now.”

Wander Suero pitched the eighth Tuesday during the Nationals’ 2-0 loss to Baltimore. Fernando Rodney pitched the ninth.

During the weekend, Doolittle should be back participating with that group. Hudson will move to the eighth inning, Strickland to the seventh (depending on which part of the order is up), Suero and Rodney to some mix prior and in between. Doolittle still holds his title of closer. But, the management of that role may have changed. 


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Wild-card tracker: Nationals thankful for Marlins, Cubs slide back

Wild-card tracker: Nationals thankful for Marlins, Cubs slide back

Back before all this mania, Miami, as putrid as its season would be, loomed as a factor.

Handling the Marlins would be key for any contender. It wasn’t a question of winning, but of how much winning would occur against one of the league’s worst teams.

Following Friday’s 6-4 win in a sparsely attended Marlins Park, the Nationals moved to 14-3 against Miami this season. They are 16 games over. 500 for the year. They are plus-11 against Miami alone.

Asdrúbal Cabrera homered again, Trea Turner hit two homers, and Daniel Hudson pitched two innings to earn the save. So, the Nationals, 84-68, hold a one-game lead for the top wild-card spot. Milwaukee won again, joining a long list of teams to beat up on the Pittsburgh Pirates since the post-All-Star-break portion of the schedule began. Pittsburgh may be the league’s worst team, at the moment, and the Brewers host it for two more this weekend.

Trouble is brewing for Chicago. It lost again to St. Louis -- this time a 2-1 mid-day defeat in Wrigley Field. The Cubs have lost four in a row. They are three games behind the Nationals and two behind the Brewers. Their path to 90 wins, which may ultimately be the threshold for postseason entrance, is narrowing.

The Mets won their third consecutive game. They are hanging around, 3 ½ games behind the Brewers with nine remaining on the schedule. Their wild-card elimination number is six.

News for Philadelphia is more dire. The Phillies dropped to 78-74 Friday night following a 5-2 loss in Cleveland. They are now five behind Milwaukee. Their wild-card elimination number is a mere five. 

Which brings us to the more detailed math portion of this program. Here are the postseason chances for each team, according to

Nationals, 96 percent

Brewers, 84 percent

Cubs, 15 percent

Mets, 5 percent

Phillies, less than one percent

Coming up Saturday:

St. Louis at Chicago, 2:20 p.m., Hudson (16-7, 3.35 ERA) vs. Quintana (13-8, 4.37)

New York at Cincinnati, 4:10 p.m., Wheeler (11-7, 4.09) vs. DeSclafani (9-9, 3.93)

Washington at Miami, 6:10 p.m., Strasburg (17-6, 3.49) vs. Yamamoto (4-5, 4.87)

Philadelphia at Cleveland, 7:10 p.m., Vargas (6-8, 4.48) vs. Plesac (8-6, 3.64)

Pittsburgh at Milwaukee, 7:10 p.m., Marvel (0-2, 9.00) vs. Davies (10-7, 3.70)



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Howie Kendrick needed the Nationals, and they needed him

Howie Kendrick needed the Nationals, and they needed him

Howie Kendrick knew he was in trouble May 19, 2018, when he was down on the warning track and could not control his ankle. His Achilles tendon tore after he moved back for a fly ball in left field. His season ended. His career could have well ended with his season.

Last offseason’s shift in free agency affected those still in their prime. The market tormented Bryce Harper and Manny Machado before forking over large sums. It treated veterans destined to be part-time players worse. Super-utility player Marwin Gonzalez didn’t sign with Minnesota until Feb. 25. He turned 30 in April and was coming off a 2.5-WAR season for a team that went to the American League Championship Series. Yet, he couldn’t find a job anywhere.

This would have been Kendrick’s plight. Perhaps it would have been more challenging. He may never have found a job via a new contract. Think of the advertisement: soon-to-be 36-year-old coming off Achilles tendon tear, with reduced positional flexibility and past hamstring problems, seeks part-time work. 

Kendrick vowed from the start he would be back, healthy, and just ride out the recovery timeline as it was dictated. The second year of his contract made the process easier. It also all but assured him of a job again with Washington. At just $4 million, even as a bench player, Kendrick’s salary was easy to accept. If he showed good health and a quick bat in spring, he would again team with Matt Adams as a potent left-right combination off the bench. The second-year saved him from graveling in the offseason.

“if that was the last year of my deal, I don’t know if I would have been in the Major Leagues this year,” Kendrick said. “Because a lot of times the way the league is now, bringing veteran guys back and being around the game, you don't see too many veteran guys around anymore. 

“Having the ability to come back to a place I really enjoy and get to be around these guys... It's been fun. We got a lot of great young guys here, guys like [Victor Robles], [Juan] Soto, [Anthony] Rendon, [Trea] Turner, those guys they keep you going every day and it's been fun. And it’s been cool to be able to see these guys grow and they've helped me out too with my game.”

Kendrick is having his best offensive season. Delivering it this year became an enormous factor in the Nationals’ survival and turnaround. Ryan Zimmerman has been to the plate 168 times in 2019. Kendrick has filled the gap with one of the most potent part-time -- rightfully not full-time -- bats in the majors.

His OPS-plus is a career-high 142. His second-best season in that category? Back in 2011, when he was 27 years old in Los Angeles. His OPS is 119 points higher than any other season, his slugging percentage 88 points higher. He’s two homers shy of tying his career-best mark despite 237 fewer plate appearances than he had in 2011.

“I'm not an everyday guy anymore and I know that and [Davey Martinez] knows and I'm not going to complain one bit about the way I’ve been used,” Kendrick said. “When I play, I play. When I don't, I’m ready to play and go in the game and I’ve kind of streamlined that process a little more, I’ve figured out, being in the National League how to prepare myself and be ready. 

“We've come up with little drills for when we pinch-hit and things like that to be as ready as we can. And then once you get in the game, whatever’s going to happen is gonna happen, and that’s what I try to look at. Keep the same mindset as hey I prepared and I’m going to go out here and try to do my job and that's' all you can ask for. I think your teammates know that, and I think your coaches know that. I think that’s the biggest part of it, and mentally you just have to know you're not always going to succeed.” 

Though this year, he has -- a lot. 

Kendrick’s career-best season exists because he didn’t have to wade through the market. The second year of his contract provided him a work haven despite his age and major injury. His work during it likely created a chance for him to sign yet another one, something which may have otherwise not happened in the first place.