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Sean Doolittle, Nationals rethinking things after another rough outing

Sean Doolittle, Nationals rethinking things after another rough outing

WASHINGTON -- Jack White and his band, The Raconteurs, found their faces on the center field video board around 7:20 p.m. They waved sheepishly as the crowd murmured, somewhat confused by what they were looking at.

Finally, a graphic went up with their name and mild I-think-I-know-that-band clapping began. Their visit to Nationals Park was brief because they had to head a mile up the street to play an 8 p.m. concert at The Anthem.

Almost five hours later, right at midnight, Christian Yelich’s fly ball landed just above the out-of-town scoreboard in right-center field. He zipped around the bases with little admiration for his 41st homer. Javy Guerra bent at the waist when looked toward the fence from the pitcher’s mound.

The Nationals trailed, 13-12, heading into the bottom of the 13th inning. Sitting behind home plate? White and The Raconteurs. They had returned for plenty of post-concert baseball because the Brewers and Nationals spent the night pulverizing each other in a 14-inning, 15-14 Milwaukee win. 

However, they missed the most important part because closer Sean Doolittle suffered another disastrous night. When he’s flat this season, he’s all the way down to ground level, incapable of recording almost any outs.

Saturday’s line was a garish: ⅓ of an inning, four hits, four earned runs, three home runs, depleted velocity, increased dejection. Saturday was Doolittle’s third outing this season where he allowed four runs. It was his second such monstrosity in just more than a week.

Now the team has to figure out what to do with him.

“I felt great [Friday],” Doolittle said. “That was the best I felt in the last several weeks. And then [Saturday] man, I just didn’t have anything. So, yeah, we’re going to have to figure something out. I’m going to have to figure something out because this team, they deserve better right now.”

Doolittle has allowed seven home runs since July 29. His fastball typically runs around 94 mph. Saturday, Ryan Braun hit a 90-mph fastball into the seats. Doolittle’s arm appeared sapped on Aug. 17 with his team hanging on to a wild-card spot and tracking first-place Atlanta.

He’s downtrodden as much as frustrated after changing his pregame routine, postgame routine and bullpen warmup. No alteration has re-energized his sagging left arm.

So, he and Davey Martinez will talk Sunday about what to do. Unlike earlier in the season, the Nationals have authentic options to handle the ninth inning. Daniel Hudson appears to be the top candidate if anyone is going to give Doolittle a night off or temporarily replace him if he has to go on the 10-day injured list. Hunter Strickland could also be used. Fernando Rodney is a fall-back plan, as well as a way to close the gap created by moving another reliever to the ninth.

“I’m not saying anything definitive, but I definitely want to have a conversation with Doo, and figure something out,” Martinez said. “What best for him, what’s best for the club and just make sure that he’s ready.”

Asked directly if Doolittle is healthy, Martinez said Doolittle told him pregame Saturday he was able to pitch. In the bullpen, Doolittle started to learn he was not.

After Christian Yelich’s second-pitch home run, Doolittle’s first instinct was to attribute the damage to Yelich’s greatness. That was until the video board showed his fastball traveled just 92 mph. Keston Hiura doubled. Mike Moustakas homered. Braun homered. Doolittle scratched his head.

“I just...I don’t know,” Doolittle said. “It just wasn’t coming out tonight. That part of the order, that team? There’s really nowhere to hide.”

He tried sliders as a salve, but his second pitch is more for blindsiding than problem-solving. Eventually, Martinez removed Doolittle from the mound once Hudson was ready. Doolittle conceded postgame his workload would have to change in some manner.

“I think so at this point,” Doolittle said. “I’m giving everything I got, but, I don’t really...I don’t know. It’s really, really tough. It’s frustrating. This time of year, with whole well we’ve been playing lately, with everything’s that at stake, everything this team can still accomplish, you want to be out there. You want to help the team. But, I haven’t been pulling my weight here these last couple weeks.”

Sunday, how his weight is distributed could change.

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Max Scherzer, Nationals undone by little things in St. Louis

Max Scherzer, Nationals undone by little things in St. Louis

Wednesday’s question around Max Scherzer centered on which version of the right-hander would do the pitching. Would it be the one from two starts ago who looked like the pitcher everyone was so accustomed to seeing? Or the one from his last start, less sharp, fastball a tick down in velocity and life?

Scherzer threw a first-pitch, 95-mph fastball Wednesday. He was loose and sharp. His outing also probably handed the Cy Young Award to New York’s Jacob deGrom.

The issues were less his doing than his teammates. Scherzer’s final line, 6 ⅔ innings, seven hits, five earned runs, 11 strikeouts, no walks, bumped his ERA to 2.81. But, Juan Soto lost a fly ball in the sun which otherwise would have ended the seventh inning. Catch it, and here’s Scherzer’s line: seven innings pitched, five hits -- two of which were bloops -- two earned runs, no walks, 11 strikeouts. Scherzer would be directly responsible for not throwing a cutter in far enough against wonder boy Tommy Edman, who hit it for a home run in the third inning. Otherwise, stellar.

Instead, a single drove in a run after the Soto mistake. A Matt Wieters pinch-hit two-run homer drove Scherzer out of the game following the single. Hence, the bloated line in a high-profile game. The rise in ERA, the loss, the box score telling a partial fib, all those things strongly enhance what was already a strong case for deGrom. Scherzer could never makeup the workload gap in the race, but could hang around or lead in all the peripherals. Wednesday’s outing made that much more difficult. 

The Nationals also never found a way to a damn-busting hit. Asdrúbal Cabrera’s deep fly ball to right field was prevented from going over the fence by a leaping Dexter Fowler, a would-be three-run homer turned into another sigh against St. Louis. The Cardinals made plays, Washington did not. St. Louis wins two of three in a series against Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Scherzer as a result.

Washington holds a one-game lead for the top wild-card spot before play begins Wednesday night. Chicago hosts Cincinnati. Milwaukee hosts San Diego. Things are tight.

The Nationals don’t play Thursday. A three-game weekend series begins in Miami on Friday. A sweep resets Washington’s season. It would also make it 16-3 against Miami this year. Anyting less? Not great.

Washington will have a slight advantage -- in theory -- going forward because it has the dual benefit of a lead (however small) as well as a game in hand on Chicago and Milwaukee. Who will pitch that extra game? Joe Ross is injured. The recent rotation shuffling for the weekend -- Aníbal Sánchez on Friday, Strasburg on Saturday and Austin Voth bumped to Sunday -- means Erick Fedde or Jeremy Hellickson would handle the day game Tuesday in Nationals Park. 

The Nationals are 6-10 in the last two-plus weeks. They haven’t lost their postseason spot --yet. However, it’s slipping, tenuous and in doubt, and Wednesday afternoon didn’t help.

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Dexter Fowler jumps, stretches out, robs Nationals of three runs

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Dexter Fowler jumps, stretches out, robs Nationals of three runs

The Nationals trailed the Cardinals 5-1 in the top of the eighth on Wednesday in St. Louis. 

But after Anthony Rendon walked and Howie Kendrick singled, Asdrubal Cabrera stepped to the plate with one out and a chance to cut St. Louis' lead to one run. 

With a 3-2 count, Cabrera roped an 82 mph slider to right field, and Nationals fans had a moment to rejoice as the ball's trajectory was clearly that of a home run. 

Enter: Dexter Fowler. 

The Cardinals' right fielder made a quick dash to the wall and leapt, stretching his 6-foot-5 frame to rob Cabrera of the possible three-run longball. 

And thus, Washington headed to the bottom of the inning still trailing 5-1, in serious need of a ninth-inning rally. 

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