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Does Sean Doolittle's fastball rise? That and much more with the Nats closer

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USA Today Sports

Does Sean Doolittle's fastball rise? That and much more with the Nats closer

Lots on Sean Doolittle’s plate at this point: He’s navigating the penetrating midwest winters of Chicago; he’s starting earnest preparations for the season; he’s even working around the house in an attempt to improve his first home.

The Nationals All-Star closer also took time to call The Racing Presidents podcast to discuss those things and much more.

Just a few days ago, two pitchers -- Roy Halladay and Mariano Rivera -- were among those inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Doolittle has a correlation to both. First, he used some of the same mental tactics Halladay drew from after being sent to the minors. Doolittle was in a different position while converting from a hitter to full-time pitcher before the start of his professional career. But, he drew on some of Halladay’s approach to get his mind right.

“One of the biggest challenges that gets presented whenever you have to deal with a setback of getting sent down or any sort of circumstance where you have to go back to the beginning, back to square one, do you have the humility to accept your circumstances?” Doolittle said.

Rivera relates to Doolittle because of his pitch selection. The first unanimous selection to the Baseball Hall of Fame only threw fastballs -- almost exclusively throwing a cut fastball -- on his way to becoming the most dominant closer in history. Doolittle’s fastball is his top weapon. He throws it 88 percent of the time. Why? Early advice from Oakland Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Billy Beane and former MLB pitcher Bob Welch convinced him to use his best pitch as often as possible. Also, his past as a hitter made him think about his approach as a pitcher.

And, there’s a weird thing about Doolittle’s fastball. It’s not 98 mph, everyone in the stadium knows it’s coming, yet it’s such a difficult pitch to handle. That’s in part because it appears from the hitter’s view to be rising.

“The way that it spins out of my hand with the backspin, what it really just does is it holds its plane a lot longer than most fastballs,” Doolittle said. “But hitters have been so conditioned to see the ball coming into the strike zone at a downward trajectory, to them, it looks like the ball rises.”

No need to limit a conversation with Doolittle to baseball. We wanted to check on two other crucial things in his life: handiwork around the house and Star Wars.

Doolittle is a first-time homeowner who is attempting to fix things himself. That has produced mixed results. No HGTV series is pending.

He is also a lifelong Star Wars addict who watched “The Last Jedi” roughly nine times. That’s not hyperbole. He has thoughts on characters, plots, offshoots and the future of the franchise. By thoughts, we mean extended, philosophical ideas.

You can hear all that below.

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Max Scherzer vs. Justin Verlander spring training matchup: Time, TV Channel, How to Watch

Max Scherzer vs. Justin Verlander spring training matchup: Time, TV Channel, How to Watch

Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander never faced each other last fall when the Nationals beat the Houston Astros in seven games to win the World Series.

It was a matchup between two former Detroit Tigers teammates that fans would've loved to see, but they'll have to settle for a February spring training game instead.

Scherzer and Verlander will take the hill for their respective clubs on Thursday as the defending pennant winners gear up for the start of the 2020 season.

Here's everything you need to know before first pitch Thursday night.

Nationals vs. Astros spring training matchup: How to Watch

Who: Washington Nationals vs. Houston Astros
What: Grapefruit League game with Max Scherzer vs. Justin Verlander
When: Thursday, February 27, 2020 at 6:05 p.m. ET
Where: FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, West Palm Beach, FL
TV Channel: You can watch Nationals vs. Astros on MLB Network
Radio: 106.7 The Fan (until 7:45 p.m. ET)

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Juan Soto hits his first home run of spring training

Juan Soto hits his first home run of spring training

When asked last week what his spring training goals were, Juan Soto simply said: "to make the team."

Soto doesn't need to worry about his spot given his status as one of the league's best young players, but he began to make his case with an opposite-field home run on Tuesday. 

During the 2019 season, the lefty showed his ability to hit for power all over the field. Of the 37 home runs Soto hit between the regular season and playoffs, 20 were to the opposite side of the field, according to Fangraphs' spray chart.

After the ball left his bat Tuesday, Soto began his trot around the bases as the ball sailed over the fence in left-center field. 

His trot around the diamond looked as comfortable as he should feel with his standing on the Nationals' roster, but it's promising to see a young star resist complacency.  

After hitting .282 with 34 home runs and 110 RBIs last season, Soto's spring training blast is only a preview of what's to come when the reigning champions defend their title this season. 

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

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