WASHINGTON -- Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle managed to crack a smile and a joke Wednesday, even amid the frustration and disappointment of heading to the 10-day injured list with a sprained left elbow that halted his terrific start to the season.
"I couldn't stop thinking about it last night. Flew too close to the sun, man: 'Finally develops a breaking ball and ends up on the IL.' It had been a long con; I'd been setting guys up for 10 years without a breaking ball, and I start throwing a breaking ball now, and look where it got me," Doolittle said in the Nationals Park home clubhouse, before quickly making sure everyone realized he was kidding and added: "I don't think that's the reason, by the way."
The two-time All-Star left-hander was a member of Washington's 2019 World Series championship team, played for Cincinnati and Seattle last year, and now is back with the Nationals bullpen -- and had been thriving. With his fastball up in the 95 mph range and a newly developed breaking ball, Doolittle retired 16 of 17 batters in 2022, including the first 15.
That streak ended in the sixth inning of Washington's 6-1 victory in Game 1 of a doubleheader sweep against Arizona on Tuesday, when the second Diamondbacks player to hit against Doolittle, Seth Beer, doubled. But even with his velocity down, Doolittle got the next batter to fly out.
Still, the 35-year-old Doolittle felt sore while warming up, and while he was on the mound, he felt a sensation that first bothered him Sunday when he retired the two players he pitched to in a loss at Pittsburgh.
"It just got to a point where we need to pump the brakes on it, make sure we do everything we can to get it right," Doolittle said.
In other roster moves before Wednesday night's game against Arizona, Washington recalled left-hander Sam Clay and right-hander Francisco Perez from Rochester and optioned outfielder Donovan Casey to the Triple-A team.
Manager Dave Martinez said he did not know Doolittle was dealing with an elbow issue until after his appearance Tuesday.
"We're definitely going to be cautious," Martinez said.
Doolittle got an MRI on Tuesday, and he said it was unclear exactly how serious an injury he might have.
He'll stay in Washington to work with the team training staff and start the rehabilitation process for 10 to 12 days, then see where things stand.
"It's incredibly frustrating because, aside from the results on the field, I've been having so much fun with this group. ... I feel like I've really started to get more comfortable in that veteran role, where you're helping the young guys out," Doolittle said. "Obviously the results have been awesome. But just ... being back in a Nats uniform and feeling back on the mound and finding my spot again in the clubhouse -- I was having so much fun."