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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