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When Sean Doolittle thinks about the Astros cheating, he thinks about lost jobs

When Sean Doolittle thinks about the Astros cheating, he thinks about lost jobs

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Sean Doolittle leaned against a shelf in the middle of the Nationals' clubhouse Thursday while explaining his thoughts on the Houston Astros cheating.

Doolittle often looked down and around the room, his mohawk untamed after being forced into a hat all morning during the first Nationals pitchers and catchers workout of 2020. Across the room from him were players who had little chance of making the team. Many of those relievers are non-roster invitees trying to return to the major leagues. Their job status is tenuous when employed. It’s all the more challenging when trying to find a way back after failing.

And when Doolittle thinks about the Astros stealing signs via technology, he thinks about the extrapolations. What did that do to relievers who had a bad day against a cheating team? What did it do to him personally?

First, the latter. Doolittle played for Oakland in 2017 before being traded to Washington on July 16. He threw 21 ⅓ innings in Oakland that season. During those, Doolittle allowed three home runs and eight earned runs. Two of those home runs were hit by the Astros -- George Springer and Jose Altuve, to be exact. They produced three of the eight earned runs he gave up before being traded. He allowed five earned runs in the other 20 innings (2.25 ERA).

Which makes Doolittle think about the Sliding Doors Theory as it pertains to him: Were those failed outings against the Astros -- a team convicted of stealing signs with technology -- enough to lower his trade value to the degree a swap with Washington worked for Oakland? And, if so, is it partly to thank for him eventually becoming a World Series champion?

“Maybe they don’t make the trade,” Doolittle said. “Maybe I’m still in Oakland. I don’t know. I really don’t know. But that's the kind of stuff that you just start thinking about. But, for me, I got traded, I landed on my feet, I ended up in a great spot. But for some guys, their bad outings, that was kind of the end of the road for them. They got sent down. They never got called back up again. I think about those guys a lot.”

Yes, Doolittle throws fastballs 90 percent of the time. However, the hitter knowing what is coming -- or is not -- is an enormous factor for any opposing pitcher, no matter repertoire. Further, being on the edge with a job, which is so often the case among relievers, means one bad day can produce combating thoughts for weeks.

Doolittle has been through this process multiple times himself. His results fluctuated last season. He wondered about his release point, his mechanics toward the plate, wondered why his fixes on the side often weren’t fixes in his outings. Questions. Doubt. Hunt for solutions. Repeat.

“I think about how they say they wish they had done more to stop it and they’re remorseful,” Doolittle said. “And I think about pitchers that had to stand up in front of their lockers after games and searching for answers after they just got hit around. I don’t know if a lot of people realize what that does to a pitcher, especially a reliever, who in that situation, that might have been the difference in the game and he’s got to stand there and face the music not really knowing what to put his finger on or what went wrong or why he got hit around the way he did.

“For some guys that was their last chance, they got sent down or they got sent out. You spend weeks, you spend months, looking for answers after an outing like that and it can change the trajectory of the season. It can impact your team’s win-loss record in the long run because you’re not as effective because you’re kind of racked with self-doubt.

“I think about the implications it might have had for teams making the playoffs and guys in the clubhouse and clubhouse staff playoff shares, and how that would have come into effect. There’s lots of layers to this, so it’s going to take more than one day of issuing statements and answering questions to feel good about moving on from this.”

Which means Thursday was just a tiny start. The Astros held multiple press conferences and open locker room opportunities. Their apologies fluctuated from stock to semi-defiant. The Nationals listened and largely shrugged.

The only thing not in dispute is the widespread frustration outside of the Houston side. Much of that frustration only led to more questions in the offseason, from trades to jobs to what's next.

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Davey Martinez to ESPN: ‘I believe there will be baseball’

Davey Martinez to ESPN: ‘I believe there will be baseball’

Baseball may not yet be close to returning to action, but Nationals manager Davey Martinez hasn’t given up hope that the 2020 season will be salvaged after the start pf the campaign was delayed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“I do believe that we'll have a season, but at this particular moment, for me and for our players, our main concern is the well-being of families, friends, fans,” Martinez told ESPN’s Marly Rivera. “We need to get out of this healthy and ready to go.”

This is the seventh time MLB has had to cut into a season. The last time it happened was 1994-95, when a strike by the players forced the league to cancel ’94 World Series. Martinez was a member of the San Francisco Giants that season, denied a chance to make the playoffs after the season came to a halt with the Giants only three games back of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West.

But when asked if he had any past experiences helping him get through the pandemic that’s forced governors across the U.S. to issue stay-at-home orders, Martinez pointed to another traumatic event that shook both baseball and the country.

“For me, 9/11,” Martinez said. “I am from New York and I have family in New York. I understood what everybody was going through. But New York rebounded, and baseball came back and took everybody in. I was playing with Atlanta and we played the Mets in that first game [in New York after 9/11].

“We were winning that game, and all of a sudden [Mike] Piazza hits the home run -- and it was almost a sigh of relief for everybody. It really was. That moment, watching the ball go over the fence. ... I know we're all so competitive and we all want to win, but in that particular moment for me, it was like, ‘You know what, this is what the game's all about. Win or lose, this is what the game is all about.’ Watching and listening to the fans stand up and cheer like they did, it was phenomenal.”

While stuck at his home in Tennessee, Martinez has helped pass the time by driving around his property on a four-wheeler and reaching out to his players—two or three a day. He asks them about their families, trying to gauge what their mindsets are because “all of a sudden what you love to do this time of year is gone.”

“I believe there will be baseball,” Martinez said “I can't put a finger on when, but we're going to step back on that field and we're going to have a lot of fun. I tell the boys, think of it this way, we hold the trophy for a lot longer than anybody else.”

As the defending World Series champions, the Nationals have been able to at least take solace in the fact that a banner-raising ceremony and ring presentation await them when they return to D.C. Until then, all Martinez can do is bunker down and wait things out along with the rest of the world.

“I think about that moment when we come back and get those beautiful rings and put up that banner in the stadium,” Martinez said. “It's still going to be there no matter what when we get back. But under these circumstances, I can't think about anything else but the safety of the people and our love for this country.”

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Nationals leave spring training facility after it is shut down, converted to coronavirus test site

Nationals leave spring training facility after it is shut down, converted to coronavirus test site

The Washington Nationals’ spring training facility in West Palm Beach, Florida, has been shut down and converted into a coronavirus testing facility.

All 13 players and the accompanying team staff who were working at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches -- the shared spring training home of the Nationals and Houston Astros -- dispersed once Florida governor Ron DeSantis ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses.

“Our medical staff is still working on finding some off-site facilities for some players,” Mike Rizzo said Monday on a conference call. “The handful of players that are rehabbing from injuries from last season... it’s a very, very small list, and obviously the injuries were a long time ago. It’s not something that’s of essential importance, and obviously the safety and the health of all the staff and all the players is paramount. Again, we are in constant communication with all players about their health and their training.”

Turning the facility over for use by the national guard was among the provisions when it was constructed, then opened, in 2017.

“The majority of the 13 players that were in West Palm have places here,” Rizzo said. “So they’re just at their home. They’re isolating themselves and trying to find some way to continue their throwing programs and their workout programs at their own homes or facilities. We still do have several minor league players, that we deemed it was unsafe to go back to their home countries, here in West Palm Beach. We continue to take care of them and put them up at one of the local hotels, as we’ll continue to do until we start back up playing.”

Nationals Park is also closed. Players already in Washington who need rehabilitation treatment can go there, but no training is taking place.

Rizzo also reiterated that no one on the roster has shown symptoms of coronavirus. So, none have been tested.

Otherwise, the Nationals are waiting and maintaining like everyone else.

“As far as the training and preparing, all of our pitchers have been in contact with Paul Menhart, our pitching coach,” Rizzo said. “They are following their throwing programs and our hitters alike have been in constant contact with Kevin Long and Pat Roessler. They all have their plans in place. There are some kind of inventive ways that they’re keeping in shape and conditioning and staying as ready as they can to participate in baseball whenever that takes place.

“Many industries are in the same situation as we are. We’re doing the best we can, we have a lot of unknowns, we continue to rely on the CDC, the World Health Organization and MLB as our resources. We are certainly going to follow their protocols and their recommendations to the letter. And as the commissioner recently said, when it’s safe to play baseball, baseball will be back, and our fans will be back, and it will be part of the recovery process in the country. But safety and health is the paramount.”

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