New Reds reliever: ‘I think we’re going to be really good’

Sean Doolittle interview (Feb. 8, 2021)

Veteran reliever open minded about his role and excited about possibilities with new team

Sean Doolittle, the newest Cincinnati Reds reliever, paused Monday before answering a question about what he learned about winning on the way to a World Series championship with the Washington Nationals in 2019.

“Oh my gosh,” Doolittle said in a Zoom interview with reporters, “I don’t know if we have enough time to really talk about how much we learned.”

Doolittle then spent almost three minutes explaining what it took for the Nationals, who overcame a slow start that left them 10 games out of first in late May to win a wild-card berth and then beat the Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros in the playoffs.

“I think it’s about coming together as a team first and foremost,” Doolittle said. “A lot was made about the path that we took to even get a playoff spot, hitting rock bottom. That team was 19-31. The vibes in and around the clubhouse weren’t great. We had a lot of team meetings. We had to hash some stuff out to come together as a group and really find our identity as a team. That’s a process that has to happen every year. I’m not saying you have to hit rock bottom, but I’m saying you have to find your identity. You have to know who you are as a team. You have to figure out how you’re going to win. And it’s not always going to be pretty, those wins, but you’ve got to find a way to win.”

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That will be the case for the Reds in 2021. They set a tentative spring training reporting date Monday of Feb. 17 for pitchers and catchers and Feb. 21 for position players. They start Cactus League play on Feb. 27 and open the regular season April 1 against the St. Louis Cardinals at Great American Ball Park.

The Reds hope Doolittle, who signed a one-year contract Monday, can aid a relief corps that ranked eighth in the National League with a 4.53 ERA in 2020.

Doolittle, 34, said he will go to spring training with an open mind about his role. He knows he doesn’t have the right to expect to close games or be handed that job. He was 0-2 with a 5.87 ERA in 11 relief appearances with the Nationals in the 60-game 2020 season but has a career ERA of 2.79 in nine seasons.

“I think I’ve made a ton of improvements,” Doolittle said. “I’m really excited about where I’m at heading into spring training. I hope to be able to pitch well enough that I’m in the mix there late in games. But I also know I have to earn that spot. I was upfront with the Reds throughout negotiations, that I’m open to a number of different roles. I’m at a point in my career where I just want to win. If Amir (Garrett) slides into that closer spot, I can match up with the lefties in front to try to help get him the ball in a save situation. I’ve pitched in a matchup role as a lefty. I’ve been a setup man. I’ve been a closer. I have experience doing a number of different things that I think might help provide some flexibility.”

Doolittle was a free agent this offseason for the first time, and his interest in the Reds started when he was working out a gym, Push Performance, just south of Phoenix, Ariz. He spent time there with Reds bullpen catcher Nate Irving and Simon Mathews, a development coach in charge of the Reds’ pitching program at the Dominican Republic Academy.

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Doolittle learned about how the Reds are developing pitchers from Irving and Mathews, but he also had a connection to the Reds because he’s a former teammate of Reds starter Sonny Gray. Doolittle and Gray played with the Oakland A’s from 2013 into the 2017 season when both were dealt near the trade deadline: Doolittle to the Nationals and Gray to the New York Yankees.

All that combined with what Doolittle sees as a chance to win again to convince him to sign with the Reds.

“I think we’re going to be really good,” Doolittle said. “I think the NL Central’s kind of wide open this year. I think everybody saw the strides that the Reds made last year, getting to the playoffs. They ran into a tough Braves team that I had to deal with quite a bit, so I know they were really good. But I love the energy that the team plays with. I love the mix of veteran guys and young guys that they have on the field and in the clubhouse. There are definitely some personalities on the team that I think is awesome. I think you need that for clubhouse chemistry. I think you need that to keep the energy up over the course of a long season. There’s a lot here that I’m excited about.”

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