A relief pitcher is not always an easy read.
Relievers hang out in the bullpen for the bulk of the game and either sit around or warm up during the middle to later innings. When they do come in (either running or via the bullpen cart), they’ll display their poker faces on the mound while receiving a series of signs from the catcher.
They aim to keep centered no matter how each batter fares.
The exception (Shawn Kelley throwing his glove after serving up a home run) proves the rule — it’s tough to find a window inside their souls, and they prefer it that way.
But Sean Doolittle is no ordinary reliever. And the bespectacled, bearded left-hander isn’t as much about being read as he is all about reading.
Last winter, he consumed books like he disposes of batters during the summer.
“Sometimes during the offseason, you get away from it for a little bit, and it’s hard to get back into it,” Doolittle said. “I think I read like 10 or 12 books this offseason, so I still did pretty well.”
What’s his winter been like so far?
“Right now I’m reading a book called ‘There, There’ by Tommy Orange. It came out a couple of years ago,” Doolittle said. “I just finished ‘Upright Women Wanted’ by Sarah Gailey, and that was a shorter read but it was so much fun. I highly recommend people check that out.”
When Doolittle isn’t pitching for the Nationals, he is often pitching for youth literacy. Last summer, the reliever was involved with D.C. Public Library’s reading program.
While he recognizes the importance of reading 20 minutes a day during the summer for area youths, he also recognizes what reading does for him.
“It helps me decompress,” Doolittle said. “You know, a lot of times pitching in the later innings, it’s tough for that adrenaline — it does not wear off right away and a lot of times you’re still wide-awake at two in the morning.
Another thing too is just giving your brain something else to do, so that you’re not ruminating on what happened during the game. Good, bad, or otherwise.”
The rhythm of the read keeps the veteran even-keeled amid the highs and lows of a 162-game campaign.
“I actually probably read more during the season, just because it’s the thing that is part of my routine that I fall into after games when I come home,” Doolittle said.
Doolittle’s career has seen more than a few plot twists: He played three minor league seasons as a first baseman/outfielder in the Oakland system before knee injuries led him back to the mound.
A swift rise (16 minor league games from high-A to Triple-A) through the A’s farm system in 2012 resulted in 44 appearances as a rookie, and the left-hander was an All-Star within two years.
After being traded to the Nationals in 2017, he was selected to the All-Star team in D.C. the next summer and pitched in the midsummer classic on his home field.
A foot injury hijacked his 2018 season, and last year it appeared like overuse would burn the left-hander out before the team acquired Fernando Rodney and Daniel Hudson.
Rested somewhat, Doolittle posted an ERA of 1.74 in 10.1 innings over nine playoff games last October.
Through it all, Doolittle returns to his books, and when the team is on the road, he checks out independent bookstores.
And he is just as much at home in a strange bookstore as he is on the mound.
“That’s one of my favorite things to do is just wander in,” Doolittle said. “Not looking for anything in particular, just seeing what’s on the shelf and just going wherever it takes you.”
Even the offseason couldn’t cure his curiosity.
“Our trip that we (Doolittle and his wife) went on over the holidays,” Doolittle said. “Boulder has a couple really good bookstores: Boulder Bookstore and Trident Books and Cafe were some really good spots. And we stocked up for the winter months.”
Just like pitchers mix up fastball and off-speed offerings, the reliever mixes up his subjects.
“I read a little bit more nonfiction this year, which isn’t saying a whole lot, because I really don’t read that much nonfiction at all,” Doolittle said. “I thought ‘Say Nothing’ was absolutely incredible — I learned a lot. I found it really thorough but also very accessible.”
Doolittle tweets regularly about his latest reads at @whatwouldDOOdo.
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