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Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle still doesn’t look right

Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle still doesn’t look right

Sean Doolittle’s six September appearances have produced a 1.80 ERA. Opponents are hitting just .063 against him. Yet, something’s not right.

The eye test suggests it when outfielders drift deep toward the wall to catch fly balls. Sounds suggest it, too, when squared-up pitches come off the opponent’s bat. His ERA and batting average against, however, do not, and if they are not telling an outright lie, they are at least delivering a modest fib.

Doolittle’s time away from the team was supposed to rejuvenate his arm and brain. His velocity dipped, his ERA spiked and he couldn’t find a fix for what was happening. Doolittle was open -- as always -- with the media when saying repeatedly fatigue had become a factor in his season. Despite a truncated and altered exercise program in between appearances, he remained tired. 

Earlier in the season, when Doolittle’s fastball still had its standard zip, he did run into a temporary lull as part of the late-May debacle in Flushing. He looked for answers in the video from April and May of 2018. What he promptly saw was a more upright version of himself. Doolittle realized he was “top-heavy” because his shoulders curled and his momentum went toward first base instead of home plate. Such movement causes both the deception from and speed of his fastball to dwindle.

The toe-tap part of his delivery has lived its own life this season. Controversy and irritation were launched when Chicago manager Joe Maddon suggested the move was illegal. Doolittle mocked him during his protest, then stopped using it against the Cubs in the inning just to prove a point. He later shelved it before bringing it back in September when he returned from the injured list (right knee tendinitis).

Also part of his return was Davey Martinez’s repeated stance Doolittle needs to operate as the team’s closer for it to be at full strength. Doolittle is yet to be used in such a demanding role in September. The reason may be his underlying numbers, the ones which tell a story opposite his front-facing ones.

Doolittle’s average fastball release speed has been on the downswing since June when it peaked this season at 94.2 mph. July followed at 93.6 mph. August matched July, however, Doolittle was pummeled during the month, leading to his injured list stint and trek for answers. His average release speed is 92.76 mph since he returned -- its lowest point since last September’s 92.92 mph and the lowest since he joined the Nationals following a July 16, 2017 trade. He has spent the entire season below an average of 95 mph for the first time since 2015. He started that season on the injured list because of a shoulder injury and threw just 13 ⅔ innings -- almost all from late August to September.

Another velocity average is also of note since his September return: average exit velocity. Doolittle has allowed just a hit in five innings since coming back. But, much of the contact against him has been hard. The first batter Doolittle faced in September, Martin Prado, flew out to the warning track. In his Sept. 15 appearance, three balls in play averaged 98.9 mph. 

Another way to explain what is currently happening against Doolittle is through swings and misses. In April, when he was fresh, 16 percent of Doolittle’s pitches resulted in swings and misses. In September, 9.8 percent of Doolittle’s pitches have produced swings and misses. In April, none of his 12 appearances included an outing with zero swings and misses. It has happened three times in six September appearances.

Also pivoting is the view of Doolittle’s future in Washington. It has moved from a slam dunk to him working so much free agency was possible, to slightly clouded. The team holds a $6.5 million option on Doolittle this offseason. His early performance made the option’s outcome obvious. The end of the year has caused it to be rethought. Did the Nationals push their closer so hard he’s worn out to the point of not returning?

For now, Doolittle is focused on finding a way to get outs during the final week-plus. After that, the postseason could be next. Then, ultimately, the offseason decision-making will arrive and the organization needs to decide if an extended winter break will return their closer to who he was and they need him to be.

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Patrick Corbin starts #QuarantineCuts challenge, getting fans to post videos of wives cutting their hair

Patrick Corbin starts #QuarantineCuts challenge, getting fans to post videos of wives cutting their hair

Barber shops and hair stylists across the country have shut their doors as government have restricted the operations of non-essential businesses to help quell the spread of coronavirus.

Nationals starter Patrick Corbin saw that as an opportunity to encourage fans to stay at home by challenging them to record videos of their wives giving them haircuts and post them on social media with #QuarantineCuts.

Corbin started off the challenge by having his wife Jen cut his hair with trimmers. In a series of photos and videos he posted on his Instagram Story, the Corbins showed the progress of Patrick’s haircut—his usual fade.

As many athletes across professional sports have participated in challenges on TikTok and Instagram, Corbin is hoping to throw a new one in the mix with the goal of keeping people indoors and flattening the curve enough for life to return to normal.

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Ryan Zimmerman on coronavirus pandemic: 'It's like I'm retired, but I can't leave the house'

Ryan Zimmerman on coronavirus pandemic: 'It's like I'm retired, but I can't leave the house'

Just a few weeks after the Nationals hoisted the Commissioner's Trophy last fall as World Series champions, Ryan Zimmerman had a decision to make.

The longtime Nationals infielder has played in every season since the club moved to Washington in 2005 and holds multiple franchise records. The two-time All-Star, who turned 35 this past September, had to decide to return to the Nationals for another season or to retire as a champion.

After a couple of months of contemplating the decision, Zimmerman decided to keep playing. The Nationals re-signed the infielder to a one-year deal in February, hoping to get a victory lap, if nothing else.

"That was one of the biggest reasons I wanted to come back," Zimmerman said in an interview with NBC Washington. "I still love playing and think I can be productive, but I wanted to see what it was like to have a season where you're the defending World Series champions, to see how much fun it would be. Going on the road and see our fans, people that are excited to see us that don't necessarily live in D.C."

The MLB season was supposed to begin last Thursday, and the Nationals home opener was set for April 1. But due to the coronavirus pandemic, baseball, like all other professional sports, is currently on pause.

"I always thought when I wasn't doing anything in the spring, that during the summer I'd be able to do anything I want," Zimmerman said. "It's like I'm retired, but I can't leave the house."

As for the sports fans that are missing watching their favorite teams every day, Zimmerman feels for them.

"Were just as bummed as they are," he said. "You don't realize how much you miss sports until they're gone."

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Zimmerman has been home with his wife, Heather, and two daughters, Mackenzie and Hayden. While the couple admitted they are not used to being home this much during this time of the year, they said they were "blessed" to be in the situation they are in.

The infielder has served as the primary cook of the household, making dinner for the family every night, while Heather said she has a good routine down with the two young girls.

"It's been an interesting time," Heather said. "We're just taking each day at a time, shift every day to make it work."

Throughout their time in Washington, Zimmerman and his family have been very active in the community. During the difficult times for many, they have helped hospitals by sending over lunches, donating money, and purchasing items for a local women's shelter through an Amazon wishlist. 

While the Zimmerman's wait for the next time they can head to Nationals Park and resume their normal lives, they agree there are way more important things to be thinking about right now.

"The most important part is everyone stays safe and thinks about each other," Zimmerman said. "Baseball will come back at some point. But right now, there are a lot more important things than baseball."

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