Mike Rizzo reflects on Sean Doolittle impact with team after return to Nats Park

Rizzo reflects on Doolittle trade after return to Nats Park originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Despite a 2-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds, Tuesday evening was a memorable night at Nationals Park. Former Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle made his return to the nation’s capital for the first time after spending the last three and a half seasons with the ball club.

Doolittle didn’t pitch in the game, but much of the night was about him. During pregame warmups, Doolittle reunited with several of his longtime Washington teammates. Then, just a few minutes before first pitch, the Nationals showed a tribute video for the reliever on the right-center field scoreboard.

That’s the type of treatment you get when you help a franchise win its first championship.

One day after Doolittle’s return to Nationals Park, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo joined the Sports Junkies and reflected on what the reliever meant to the organization.

“He’s a guy that’s close to this organization. He means a lot to us,” Rizzo said. “We traded for him back in the day and he had four extremely productive years for us. He was a great teammate and a great person in the community. Most importantly, he closed a lot of games for us.”

Related: Two years later, Doolittle reflects on 2019 Nationals’ 19-31 turnaround

Rizzo called the 2017 trade for Doolittle — which also brought in reliever Ryan Madson — one that was “an important part in building a championship club.”

During the 2019 World Series run, Doolittle was one of two relief pitchers (Daniel Hudson was the other) who saw significant action in the postseason. It became clear that manager Davey Martinez trusted those two relievers significantly more than the rest of his bullpen. Washington doesn’t win that title that season without Doolittle.

Looking back at the 2017 trade for Doolittle, one that cost the Nats Jesús Luzardo in return, Rizzo called the swap a move that “worked out well for both clubs.”

“I think it was one of those trades where we were in our timeline to win and where they were, they were different timelines. So I think it worked out for both of them,” Rizzo said. 

In Washington, the Nationals got an immediate impact from Doolittle and would continue to receive such for the next few years. In Oakland, they received a solid pitching prospect in Luzardo — still just 23 years old — who has the potential to be a solid started in the A’s rotation for years. 

Rizzo admitted that it’s sometimes hard to part with prospects like Luzardo, one they drafted and developed within their own organization. But, the general manager also said that in order to stay a consistent winner like how the Nationals have been for the past several years, they must part with talented prospects in order to get win-now pieces.

“I enjoy the process of what we’re getting in a return rather than what we’re giving up,” Rizzo said. “If I’m getting what I want in a trade that is going to help us win and help us win for an extended period of time, it pains you less to give up a Luzardo or one of these young prospects like a [Lucas] Giolito to get what you need at the moment.”

In recent years, every move Rizzo has made has been to compete for a World Series. Some moves have been more difficult than others, but that’s part of the business of baseball.

“When you’re winning for 10-12 years in a row like we’ve been doing, you have to give to get to continue to compete and continue to be championship-caliber quality,” Rizzo said. “I think we’ve found the balance quite well where we’re trying to win, but you’re also building toward the future. Oftentimes, it’s a very delicate balance. I think we’ve done it really well here.”

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