Photo by Reggie Hildred for The Sports Capitol

Doolittle has stress reaction in foot, return delayed for 'weeks'


NATIONALS PARK — Sean Doolittle walked into the clubhouse Sunday morning with a gray walking boot strapped to his left foot. The return of the boot hinted at the amount of pain he still felt in his injured foot despite the progress he believed he was making. Doolittle threw off a mound Friday. He also ran on a treadmill. His foot throbbed for hours afterward. So, the medical staff decided to take another look.

A subsequent MRI revealed a stress reaction in Doolittle’s foot. The complication is difficult to identify. It was not apparent in the first MRI as Doolittle’s diagnosis has moved from a toe/nerve issue, to a foot problem to this latest assessment that will keep him on the disabled list for weeks.  

“It’s up the second toe where there’s a metatarsal comes up and attaches to the bridge of the foot,” Doolittle said. “It’s basically right in the bridge of the foot. A stress reaction is basically a bone bruise. The frustrating part about them is they don’t initially show up on an MRI. A stress fracture takes like three weeks to show up on an X-Ray or MRI. That’s why the initial MRI looked OK. But on this one, they were able to see it pretty clearly. It’s a good thing we did that, it’s a good thing we got another one because if it develops into a stress fracture, that’s a lot of time. That’s something you really want to try to avoid.”

The Nationals were trying to skate by with a six-man bullpen because they thought Doolittle, who was placed on the disabled list July 10, retroactive to July 7, was close to a return. He is not, shifting significant weight on Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson and new closer, Kelvin Herrera. Washington did find a way to bump the bullpen to seven Sunday. It recalled Sammy Solis after trading Brian Goodwin to Kansas City for minor-league pitcher Jacob Condra-Bogan. Condra-Bogan worked in A ball. He is not here to help.

One bullpen option lurking at Syracuse is Koda Glover. He threw a scoreless inning Friday night for the Chiefs in his fifth appearance. Glover needs a few more appearances before he completes his “spring training,” but has been reinstated from the 60-day disabled list and officially added to Syracuse’s roster. Something to keep an eye on.

In the interim, that Nationals will stagger through with more bullpen issues. Madson and Kintzler have taken a step back from their numbers of last season. Kintzler’s 3.72 ERA is up from 3.46 of last year. Madson’s ERA has lurched to 4.98, it’s highest point since 2006. Both have also been on the disabled list during this season of heavy usage.

Herrera’s regressions is expected, but also extreme. His WHIP in Kansas City this season was 0.818, largely because he had reduced his walks by such a significant margin. It’s 1.688 since arriving in Washington when his role has fluctuated. Herrera mentioned how settled in he was as the closer in Kansas City when he arrived in Washington. His return to the mean has come with a disruption to routine to produce a 4.22 ERA.

“But for us right now, the starting pitching has got to go deeper in games,” Davey Martinez said. “If they can do that, we’ll be in great shape. Our lineup is starting to score some runs, and we’re starting to produce a little better. We just want come the seventh inning, hopefully we’ll have the lead and have those guys available to pitch.”

Having a lead is increasingly paramount to this team as constructed. Going forward, the main lineup is not a swift one. Daniel Murphy replaced Wilmer Difo. Matt Wieters replaced Pedro Severino. Michael A. Taylor, arguably the team’s faster player on the field overall, has been relegated to the bench because of Juan Soto’s emergence. None of those moves are incorrect from an offensive standpoint. However, that alignment produces a slower all-around team, something that is apparent when the Nationals are opposed by the Atlanta Braves or Philadelphia Phillies. This matters because the faster defensive replacements are not going to be deployed without a lead.

While his teammates attempt to figure this out, Doolittle will let his foot rest. He can still do certain exercises and throw off one foot to keep his arm strong. He’s not worried about that part. In fact, the break has been beneficial to his shoulder. He can strengthen around the injury. But, the nature of the injury also means Doolittle is relegated to waiting and watching during the best season of his career.

“I want to be back with this group, I want to join the guys. It’s go time now,” Doolittle said. “I want to be a part of that. I’m not really sure how much time I’m going to miss. I think they measure it in weeks, so that’s good. Not months. But, I’m really hesitant to put a timetable on it at this point. But in this point of the season, with everything that’s going on, to not be able to help is a really frustrating feeling.”

Todd Dybas is the managing editor and co-founder of The Sports Capitol. He has spent 17 years in the sports editorial industry, working as a writer and layout editor, winning multiple awards in both positions. He has been an NFL beat writer, has worked as a member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America for seven years, and is a member of the Pro Basketball Writers Association.

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