Matt Cronin’s fastball looks familiar. Ask Sean Doolittle.


WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Matt Cronin was a sophomore at Arkansas when he first heard the comparisons — his fastball resembled Sean Doolittle’s. Both have a rising action that makes the batters roll under the baseball.

Why does Cronin find it so effective?

“Honestly, if I could teach him, I wouldn’t be playing baseball. I would teach him and make a lot (of money) that way,” Cronin said. “But I think a lot of it comes naturally to you. I’m very loyal behind baseball. It has excellent backspin, so I don’t waste any of those spins. It just helps the ball stand up. If you really want to read about it, you can read about the Magnus effect.”

The Magnus effect is a force that accounts for how much the ball breaks as it hits the target. Cronin learned about it in high school. On the downswing, Magnus’ impact on the curveball is aided by gravity and causes a steeper fall. A fastball, on the other hand, has backspin, defies gravity and allows the ball to stay in the air longer.

Doolittle, who first met Cronin at the team’s alternate site in 2020, said he can understand why people like the two. Doolittle said Cronin has a shorter arm action that allows him to hide the ball behind his body for longer periods of time and fool hitters.

“I’m going after him (2020),” Doolittle said. “Even then, at least within the (National) organization, they told me there were some similarities. So I watched him all the time. I’m really happy for him, he was really good last year. It’s been really interesting to see him progress and figure out who he is and how to use his strengths and use them.”

Cronin was undefeated in his first 16 starts last season. His first 14 relief outings came with Class AA Harrisburg before he was called up to Class AAA Rochester. Cronin wasn’t effective in Rochester, which he says may have been when he initially jumped to another level in the minors.

A season ago, Cronin threw mostly fastballs and curveballs and occasionally mixed in a split. But right-handed hitters in Class AAA have had much more success against his curveball.

So last year, he added a slider to his arsenal after listening to Tyler Clippard’s bullpen session. His hope was that the pitch would strand right fielders and drive left fielders off the board. He wants to introduce more of it this year.

Cronin and Doolittle are both fighting for a roster spot. Doolittle, 36, is hoping for a successful finish after internal side surgery last July. But the Nationals are slowly building him back and controlling his pitching in camp. That means there’s room for another left-handed delivery like the 25-year-old Cronin.

The two were on the same hurling teams at camp, but Cronin said he didn’t go to Doolittle for advice. He prefers to be a fly on the wall and watch instead.

“He’s a quiet guy, and I went up to him and started a few conversations,” Doolittle said. “I love watching him make the catch and the ball coming out of his hands. For me, as a student of the game, that’s what I can take from it.”

“It felt like something was taken away”

Daylen Leal – Washington’s second-round pick in the 2021 draft – missed all of last season with Tommy John surgery. Lyle, 20, has been cleared to play again.

“It felt like something I loved was taken away,” Lyle said last season. Despite the challenge, Lil was able to lean on forward Carter Keeboom, who advised him as he recovered from the same injury last season.

“I was upset at the beginning of my career, not because of the severity of it,” Kibum said. “I know how I felt and it can feel like a lot hits you at once. Big ups and downs for you. But he handled himself well. Every day he appeared. He works hard. He is on time. There’s no doubt he’ll come back an even better player and a really good person.”

Nationals prospect TJ White — drafted as an outfielder — said the Nationals wanted him to learn to play first base this season. He says it’s been an adjustment, but he feels comfortable. White, 19, spent last season at Class A lowly Fredericksburg, where he finished with 11 home runs and 52 RBIs.

Israel Pineda escaped serious injury

Catcher Israel Pineda was diagnosed with a sprained tip of his right pinky finger. On Saturday, Pineda almost got hit in the head, but used his hand to avoid it. Pineda was attended to by head coach Paul Lessard and eventually exited the game.

Martinez said Pineda can still catch and throw, but he needs to manage his pain tolerance. Pineda, 22, made his major league debut with the Nationals last season and went 1-for-13 in four games. Martinez said earlier in spring training that he would like to see Pineda become more consistent in his at-bats, meaning Riley Adams will have an inside track to the backup catcher role. But if Keibert Ruiz or Adams are injured, Pineda could be next in line.

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