Posted on August 18, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine

Washington Nationals Sean Doolittle
Image via espn.com

The Washington Nationals may have found the reason why closer Sean Doolittle has been so ineffective lately. Unfortunately, it may not be something that allows for a quick fix. The Nationals placed Doolittle on the 10-day Injured List Sunday because of tendinitis in his right knee. It’s not exactly good news for a team that’s trying to secure a playoff despite despite a struggling bullpen.

Doolittle goes to the IL one day after his most disastrous blown save of the season. He allowed three home runs in a span of four batters against the Brewers Saturday night, as Washington ultimately lost in extra innings. It was the crux of what has been a dreadful month for Doolittle. He has allowed 10 runs over seven innings during the month of August, causing his season ERA to rise from 3.00 at the end of July to 4.33

“I’m still searching for answers,” Doolittle said after Saturday’s game. “I don’t know. … It just wasn’t coming out tonight. That part of the order, that team, there’s just nowhere to hide.”

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If his knee has been bothering him, it could explain Doolittle’s recent slump. For large stretches of the season, he was one of the few bright spots in an unreliable Washington bullpen. Despite a few terrible outings in recent weeks, the Nationals will surely miss Doolittle while he’s on the IL. On the bright side, going to the IL could give the lefty a chance to get himself healthy and back on track for the stretch run in September.

“He has always had knee issues,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez told reporters Sunday “He can’t get on that front side like he wants to (on his delivery). I told him, ‘You are not letting anybody down. But we have to get you right.'”

Martinez also said that Doolittle would be Washington’s closer when he’s ready to come off the IL. Of course, the Nationals will have to find a way to fill that spot in the meantime. It could be difficult to find a reliable replacement for Doolittle in what has been one of the worst bullpens in baseball this season.

Fernando Rodney could be one option. The 42-year-old has over 300 career saves under his belt and has a 3.24 ERA since joining the Nationals in June. Hunter Strickland, who the Nationals acquired at the trade deadline, is another candidate. He saved 14 games for the Giants last season and has been sharp since being traded to Washington. Daniel Hudson has also been a great addition to the bullpen since the trade deadline, although he has limited experience as a closer. The depth in the Washington bullpen is also limited beyond that trio of veterans.

Ultimately, Doolittle going to the IL could end up being a blessing in disguise. He was on pace for a career high in appearances and his velocity was starting to dip in recent outings. Clearly, Doolittle wasn’t at his best or in a position to succeed. But if he can get healthy after taking some time off, he might be able to make a positive impact for the Nationals in September.

At the moment, the Nationals hold the top Wild Card spot in the National League despite their atrocious bullpen. Even with the recent additions of Strickland and Hudson, it won’t be easy for Washington while Doolittle on the IL, especially since there’s no firm timeline for his return. But if they can survive without him for a little while, they could be better off for it and see their chances of reaching the postseason improve when Doolittle is able to return.

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