Doolittle was placed on the disabled list July 10 with a strained toe on his left foot and hasn't appeared in a game since July 6. The injury has since been classified as a stress reaction of his second left metatarsal.
"If you had told me when I came out of that game that night that I was going to have to wait two months to get to do that again, I would've said you were crazy," Doolittle said Friday afternoon. "But it's one of the things the DL does. It gives you some perspective. It humbles you a little bit. It reminds you how lucky we are to play this game, and to get a chance to put this uniform on and go back out on the field. I'm really excited to be back with the guys."
Prior to being sidelined, Doolittle had been one of the most dominant relievers in the majors, posting a 1.45 ERA with 22 saves. In 37⅓ innings, he had recorded 49 strikeouts and issued just three walks, a performance that helped him become an All-Star for the second time in his career.
In his absence, Washington's bullpen has struggled. Since the All-Star break, Nats relievers have a 4.72 ERA, the fourth-highest in the National League. Kelvin Herrera, acquired in June from the Royals, replaced Doolittle as the team's closer, but sustained a season-ending Lisfranc injury Aug. 26. Veteran setup man Ryan Madson took over for Herrera, but was dealt to the Dodgers on Aug. 31, one of several players the Nationals have unloaded as they've fallen out of playoff contention.
Beside giving Washington its All-Star closer back, Doolittle's return also gives the bullpen cart a purpose. In the three weeks since the cart was introduced at Nats Park, not a single reliever has used it. Doolittle promises to be the first.
"I hope so," the 31-year-old lefty said of the prospect of being the vehicle's inaugural passenger. "Unless somebody sneaks a ride in before I get in there tonight, it's looking pretty good. So I'm excited about that."
In other injury news, starter Joe Ross takes the hill Friday night against the Cubs in his first appearance since undergoing Tommy John surgery in July 2017. In 48 outings since debuting with Washington in 2015, the 25-year-old righty is 17-13 with a 3.95 ERA.
Ross will be opposed by Cubs southpaw Jon Lester in the second game of a four-game set that's a rematch of last year's National League Division Series, which Chicago won in five games. In Thursday's series opener, the Cubs beat the Nats 6-4 in 10 innings.