WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 25: Starting pitcher Ross Detwiler #48 of the Washington Nationals pitches in the first inning against the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park on September 25, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
"We've had high hopes [for Ross Detwiler] ," Davey Johnson said in announcing the Washington Nationals' '07 1st Round pick's return to the rotation early this August. "He's very poised out there, makes quality pitches, I mean he had a great Spring Training," Johnson said, "By all [accounts] he probably should have made the club out of Spring Training. He was probably the best pitcher in the Spring." The 25-year-old left-hander started the season with Triple-A Syracuse, where a frank talk with Chiefs' manager Randy Knorr reportedly turned Detwiler's career around. Called up in July and used as a reliever, with Davey Johnson carefully managing his outings, Detwiler made his second start of the year on August 4th and remained in the rotation through the end of the season.
In 10 starts, including an emergency outing against Chicago on July 5th, the 4th-year pro posted a 3.21 ERA, 4.42 FIP, .250 BAA and a .266 BABIP, allowing 54 hits, 23 runs, 20 ER and 15 BB (2.41 BB/9) in 56.0 IP over which he K'd 32 (5.14 K/9). It was his last three starts, however, that finally saw the lefty pitching like a 1st Round pick and rewarding the faith the Nationals have had in him. In back-to-back outings that ended the year, Detwiler threw 13.1 scoreless against the Phillies and Braves. And in his final start of the season against Atlanta, just to make the sample size smaller and smaller, Detwiler pitched his way out of the sort of situation that might have rattled him in the past.
A single and back-to-back walks started the third, but Detwiler retired the next three Braves' batters without a run scoring and went on to throw three more innings in which he didn't give up a run to a desperate Atlanta team. After the game, Detwiler's manager told reporters he liked what he'd seen from the left-hander.
"I think he grew up a lot today," the Nationals' manager said, "I mean he got a little wild and didn't get overly aggressive and just stayed within himself and pitched out of a tough jam, no outs, bases loaded with awfully good hitters up there, so that was a great effort on his part."
At the beginning of the year, Detwiler told MASNSports.com's Byron Kerr, as quoted in an article entitled, "Offseason program paying dividends for Nats' Detwiler", that some changes in his mechanics and conditioning had him back throwing like he was in 2009 when he'd impressed in a short stint before struggling with hip issues that eventually required surgery. "'I think I am back to where I was at one point before all the injuries,'" Detwiler said. He was also back to using his sinker more than he had the previous season, throwing it 73.5% of the time up from 64.3% in 2010 and dialing back on the curve (18.3% down to 12.8%) and change (down from 17.5% to 13.7%).
Was what he showed at the end of the year enough to convince the Nationals Detwiler's ready to enter the major league rotation on a full-time basis? "I think, again, like I said, there's a lot of guys hungry to get into this rotation and we've seen it in September," Davey Johnson said, "and I don't care if it's any time of the year. [It's] big league ballgames. You're pitching against clubs that are trying to establish their year. Every player that goes out there is trying to do well enough to play another year or win a pennant. And the effort that you're seeing [from Detwiler] is outstanding and he's definitely in the picture in the starting rotation."
A pitcher getting it together a little later in his career is nothing new to the Nats' manager, who played 13 years in the majors and managed for the 15th year this season in Washington. "Shoot, I've seen [Ron] Darling, Sid Fernandez and [Rick] Aguilera," Johnson explained, "Young pitchers with great promise can take longer. I know [Detwiler] had a number of starts last year, but what he's done this year, starting once, being in the bullpen and then getting back in the rotation, he's pitched against some good-hitting ballclubs and done okay. Held his head above water."
"And this," Johnson said of Detwiler's last start against the Braves, "... was probably the biggest game of the year for him, going against this club and holding them down to zilch. What did he give up three hits, four hits? Just a great effort and coming off shutting down the Phillies for 7.0+, that was back-to-back great efforts against good-hitting ballclubs." Detwiler impressed Davey Johnson in Spring Training and in September, a full season in the starting rotation is the next step for the former 1st Round pick, who's got the support of his skipper, if Johnson does indeed return to the Nats' bench.