Sean Doolittle decided he was going to stick with what he does best.
Thursday night came down to a final at-bat from Miami’s Dee Gordon, with a runner on third, two outs and Doolittle on the mound.
He threw Gordon eight fastballs in the at-bat. Progressively, Gordon began to catch up. He looked overmatched to start, swinging through two of the first three. Then he came up with a weak foul ball. Instead of going to a slider or his circle changeup, Doolittle kept firing fastballs. He even chatted with catcher Matt Wieters after one of Gordon’s foul balls to see what his new catcher was thinking.
That Doolittle stayed with his fastball is not a surprise. He throws it 80.9 percent of the time this season, according to Fangraphs. That’s in line with his heavy career usage of 80.9 percent. History, good and bad, has taught Doolittle to stick with his fastball, the pitch that led to him being a dominant reliever in the first place.
“It’s a little bit tempting [to throw something else to Gordon], but I’ve been on the other side of it where I’ve done that,” Doolittle said. “I’ve gone to the slider and I’ve gotten burned by it. And then the feeling of getting beat on something other than your best pitch. That’s tough to live with.
“In that scenario – two outs, two strikes – a guy in scoring position, if I throw the breaking ball and he takes it, now I’ve got 3-2. Do I feel good enough to go a full count? Maybe. Depends on the night. Depends on how I’m feeling that night, or how it was working in the pen before. So a lot of things kind of factor into it. But at the end of the day, staying in attack mode seems to give me the best chance for success. That’s a pitch that I’ve been able to have a lot of success on in my career. If Wieters wanted, he felt strongly enough about it, I would’ve felt good about it to. But he came out, we talked about it real quick, so we were on the same page.”
Gordon is one of the league’s preeminent slap hitters. During the at-bat, left fielder Andrew Stevenson continued to creep in and toward the third base line. That’s the reason he was able to make a diving catch on Gordon’s dipping liner to end the game on the eighth fastball of the at-bat.
It was one at-bat in a game of little meaning. But, it provided a look at Doolittle’s decision making with a quality hitter at the plate and the game on the line.
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