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.
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.”