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Why wasn't Sean Doolittle in Game 4 of the World Series?

Why wasn't Sean Doolittle in Game 4 of the World Series?

WASHINGTON -- Sean Doolittle has thrown 13 pitches in a World Series which passed its midpoint Saturday night. 

Those all came in Game 1, when Doolittle pitched Oct. 22, a date so distant it feels more like the Paleozoic Era than 2019. 

A blowout followed in Game 2. He was not needed. A day off, then no good spot in Game 3. Not so in Game 4. 

Tanner Rainey created trouble in the seventh when the Nationals trailed, 4-1. He walked two, settled himself, then retired José Altuve, no small feat this series. Up next: left-handed Michael Brantley. He has a .417 batting average and .917 OPS in the World Series. He also carries a career .707 OPS against left-handed pitchers.

The Nationals, and their suddenly gasping offense, trailed by three runs. Houston remained with closer Roberto Osuna at its disposal. Options in front of him were limited. The Astros' best postseason reliever, Will Harris, was used earlier in the game. So was Josh James. They would have to go to the B side of their bullpen for six outs before Osuna. 

So, Davey Martinez had a choice: down three, does he do the unorthodox thing by using one of his two trustworthy bullpen options against the steel of Houston’s lineup? Or does he take another chance with Fernando Rodney? 

Doolittle was prepared to pitch in the spot if asked. He wasn’t. Instead, Rodney came into the game in an attempt to fix Rainey's faltering.

“Rainey has been our guy in the seventh inning,” Martinez said. “When he starts throwing balls, usually he can't come out of it. He got a big out for us. And I honestly thought that Rodney was, with the change-up on Brantley, which like I said, Brantley is a good hitter, he threw a good pitch, Brantley put the ball in play. After that he just made one mistake and [Alex] Bregman got him.”

The pitch Brantley hit was a 91-mph two-seam fastball down and away. It crossed the plate right on top of the location of the previous pitch, which was a changeup Brantley fouled off.

Meanwhile, Doolittle watched from the bullpen. Another question around whether he should have been pitching included what was coming in the series. If Doolittle pitched Saturday, would he be available Sunday? Barring an enormous pitch count, the expected answer with a day off Monday, would be yes. He would be ready again Tuesday in Game 6. Everyone will be as ready as their arms allow in a Game 7. That doesn’t weigh into this discussion because of the pending desperation level. 

The key issue in Martinez’s eyes was the score. Washington loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the sixth. It scored just a run. Score two runs -- or more -- and Doolittle likely enters the game to face Brantley, Bregman -- who hit a grand slam -- and beyond.

“For me, you don't chase wins,” Martinez said. “Come [Sunday] we're up 2-0, and all of a sudden we're in the seventh inning, you have to use Hudson for two innings, you have to use Doolittle for two innings. You want those guys ready to pitch. I know we got a day off the next day. All this was talked about before the game.

“But you're down still three runs, and like I said, Rainey has done well for us. It just happens he couldn't throw strikes [Saturday].”

The counter-argument is to use the best relievers in the biggest spots during close games. Martinez did not, in what could be argued was his first tactical misstep of the postseason.
 

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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. 

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