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Is Nationals closer Sean Doolittle being pushed too much early in the season?

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Is Nationals closer Sean Doolittle being pushed too much early in the season?

Sean Doolittle joked about his usage early last May. In late April, he pitched three consecutive days. May 3, he picked up a five-out save. Being pushed so early in the season opened his eyes behind his clear goggles. 

“I guess the training wheels are off,” Doolittle said then. 

The Nationals pushed Doolittle because early April was bad. A four-game, season-opening sweep of Cincinnati gave way to an 11-16 first month. Washington played at a 70-win pace the three-plus weeks after leaving Ohio feeling good about itself. Which forced new manager Davey Martinez to predominantly use only the relievers he had the utmost trust in. Doolittle was part of that band, and pitched 12 innings in 12 appearances across April. He pitched 12 more in May, seven in June, three in July and zero in August because he was injured. 

Doolittle has 10 appearances on his ledger this season. Seven games remain in April. Washington enters play Tuesday a game under .500, roiled by the league’s worst bullpen. He’ll have every chance to pass 12 appearances by the end of April, something he’s done once before. That was in 2016. Doolittle threw just 39 innings that year because shoulder inflammation did not allow him to pitch in July or August. 

Which begs multiple questions: Is his usage out of the ordinary as compared to the league? How foreign is it for him? And, is there any reasonable way to avoid it when managing the league’s worst bullpen? 

To the last question first. No. No is the answer. Martinez can’t trust anyone outside of Doolittle no matter the situation. Wander Suero and Kyle Barraclough are probably 2-3 in the Bullpen Trust Rankings, at the moment. Each allowed a home run Monday night in Colorado. Which is why Doolittle enters 5-0 games, adding another appearance to his total. 

Doolittle’s total pitches thrown is not outlandish as compared to general relievers in the rest of the league. Coming into Tuesday, Doolittle was 33rd in the National League among bullpen dwellers. The Mets have three of the top eight among NL relievers in pitches thrown. Their bullpen is 27th in ERA. In other words, New York is bludgeoning a specific trio early in the season just to achieve a bottom-end result. That’s a bad mix. 

But, Doolittle’s pitch count matters more specific to him and when related to closers. He’s thrown more than 1,000 pitches once -- six years ago when he made a career-high 70 appearances for Oakland. A 928-pitch season followed. Otherwise, he has never eclipsed 800 pitches in a year. He’s averaging 17.3 pitches per outing this season. If he makes 60 appearances -- 10 fewer than his career-best -- Doolittle will still set a career-high in pitches thrown, at this rate. 

Doolittle is also third among full-time National League closers in pitches thrown. 

Another way to look at common usage is simply checking on last season’s top-five saves leaders in the National League. Wade Davis pitched 65 ⅓ innings, Kenley Jansen 71 ⅔, Felipe Vazquez 70, Brad Boxberger 53 ⅓, Raisel Iglesias 72. The top-five closers worked less the season before. Only Corey Knebel cracked 70 innings. Three of the top five did not exceed 60. 

The most rapid -- and perhaps only -- in-house way to lighten Doolittle’s work is to get Trevor Rosenthal right. If Rosenthal is ever able to take just two appearances per month from Doolittle, a profound benefit for Doolittle will follow. This is a premise Washington was working under when it signed Rosenthal. It’s also a premise emphatically flushed by his early yips.

Piled together, a 70-plus appearance, 1,000-pitch season for Doolittle is extreme. Yet, that’s where he’s heading, if he can make it.

 

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Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay sounds off on Max Scherzer's stance that players already took a pay cut

Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay sounds off on Max Scherzer's stance that players already took a pay cut

One days after Nationals ace Max Scherzer released a statement saying MLB players had no reason to engage the league in further compensation reductions, Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay sounded off on the stance.

Scherzer, a member of the players’ union’s eight-member executive subcommittee, said in his statement Wednesday that players had already negotiated a pay cut in the version of prorated salaries. “There’s no justification to accept a 2nd pay cut based upon the current information the union has received,” he said.

[RELATED: Scherzer continues to steer union on a united front]

Kay took to his ESPN radio show Thursday to say Scherzer is incorrect.

“The one thing that I want to amplify, I’m not on either side. The players are taking a chance by playing during a pandemic, the owners are taking a financial chance,” Kay said. “But when the players, and this is something that Max Scherzer said, when the players say they’ve taken a pay cut … Stop! You have not taken a pay cut. You have not worked. You have not played. You don’t deserve to get paid. That’s all there is to it. So that’s not a pay cut.”

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The original pay cut Scherzer was referring to is the deal negotiated between the league and union in March, which prorated player salaries. But a recent proposal from MLB owners would further reduce salaries, placing them into tiers where the highest-paid players would have their salaries cut the most.

Under the new proposal, Scherzer would make around $4.333 million of his $28,777,759 million base salary. Stephen Strasburg would make just $5.313 million of his $35 million base salary.

Kay contends the original deal from March wasn’t a pay cut.

“You can make the argument, ‘Well, it’s guaranteed money.’ Well, the owners aren’t locking you out. The virus is locking you out,” he said. “We’re not playing baseball because of health concerns, because people are dying all around the country to the tune of over 100,000 people. Please don’t say you took a pay cut. You didn’t take a pay cut.”

Kay added that he is contracted to work 135 Yankees games this season for YES Network, but said he wouldn’t look at it as a pay cut if games were canceled and he wasn’t paid.

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Nationals' Sean Doolittle makes statement on death of George Floyd

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Nationals' Sean Doolittle makes statement on death of George Floyd

Washington Nationals relief pitcher Sean Doolittle released a statement on Twitter on the death of George Floyd. 

Floyd, a black man, died in police custody after a police officer kept his knee on his neck for several minutes. His death has sparked civil unrest in Minneapolis, MN and in several other areas across the country.

Doolittle's screengrab text read: 

Racism is America's Original Sin. It was here before we even forged a nation, and has been pased down from generation to generation. And we still struggle to acknowledge that it even exists, much less atone for it. The generational trauma of racism and violence is killing black men and women before our eyes. We are told it is done in the name of, "law and order", but there is nothing lawful nor orderly about these murders.

My heart is heavy knowing that George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and too many others should still be alive. We must not look away from the racism and the violence. We must never condone racism or extrajudicial violence in the name of "law and order." We must take action and call it out for what it is. We must recognize our shared humanity and atone for our Original Sin or else we will continue to curse future generations with it. RIP George Floyd. 

Earlier this week Washington Wizards star Bradley Beal was among several athletes that tweeted about Floyd's death.