After 77 games, 76 starts and 365.0 IP over five years in the minors and 72 games, 56 starts and 336.2 IP in the majors in which he had a 3.74 ERA, 4.17 FIP, 3.18 BB/9 and 5.53 K/9, 26-year-old left-hander Ross Detwiler made his first career postseason start for the Washington Nationals this past October with the Nats trailing the St. Louis Cardinals two games to one in the five-game National League Division Series.
The night before, the Nationals had taken an 8-0 beating from the Cards with Edwin Jackson giving up eight hits and four runs in 5.0 IP. Detwiler was due to start Game Four with the NL East Champions' season on the line. Nats' skipper Davey Johnson was asked if he would consider going to 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez on short rest rather than throwing the relatively unproven Detwiler in the win-or-go-home matchup with the Cards.
"No, I wouldn't do that," Johnson said confidently, "We have two more ballgames."
The 69-year-old manager believed in Detwiler. Johnson shepherded the 6'5'' lefty's transition from a some-time reliever to a full-time starter and a contributing member of a strong rotation who went (10-8) in 27 starts with a 3.58 ERA, 3.95 FIP, 1.25 WHIP, 2.75 BB/9 and 5.66 K/9 in a starting role in 2012. The veteran of 16 MLB seasons on the bench had explained earlier last summer that Detwiler's emergence had a lot to do with finally figuring out what kind of pitcher he was. "You start realizing what kind of stuff you have," Johnson said, "and that you don't have to overdo it."
"I mean he went through that one period where he was pitching with a 91 mph sinker," the manager had explained, "But his best sinker is that power sinker that he throws harder and it has really late movement, really bites down, and if he comes inside it's kind of coming back over the plate. It's just some awfully good stuff and he's starting to realize that and he's using it as a weapon."
"Det's capable of pitching a good game tomorrow," Johnson told reporters after Game 3 of the NLDS.
"Detwiler has certainly got the stuff to pitch a good game,' the veteran manager told another reporter.
The next afternoon, before Game 4, Johnson was asked again about potentially using Gio Gonzalez if he had to.
"Is there a situatiuon where you would use Gio today, or would you like to stay away from that?" a writer asked.
"No, I need him for tomorrow's game," Johnson said, "If I throw everything but the kitchen sink here, I may not have a chance tomorrow. Gio is going to pitch Game 5."
Detwiler threw 6.0 strong innings in Game 4, allowing just three hits and one unearned run in what ended up being a 2-1 Nationals' win when Jayson Werth hit a walk-off blast in the bottom of the ninth inning. Werth then blasted reporters who had questioned the idea of going with Detwiler, especially in such an important game. "Yeah, media can say whatever they want," Werth said, "We know the type of guy Ross is and what he brings to the team. I said yesterday I felt good about where we were at. I felt like Ross would handle business and we have Gio going tomorrow."
"I'll tell you," Davey Johnson said, "I was so proud of him. He pitched; he didn't start the game overthrowing. He pitched. He used his -- in crucial spots, he used his change for a good strike. Used his curve ball. Went in and out. He was just totally under control against a good-hitting ballclub. It was great. Fun watching."
While he was expected to start the season working out of the bullpen, an injury to Chien-Ming Wang late last Spring and a surprise decision to demote John Lannan resulted in Detwiler earning the fifth spot in the Nationals' rotation at the start of the 2012 campaign. As Davey Johnson explained to reporters at the time, the Nats decided they wanted to see, "'... how good Det can be.'" In the manager's opinion, "'The best thing for the organization today, as well as tomorrow, is for Ross Detwiler to get the opportunity to start." Detwiler was moved out of the rotation for a time when Wang returned from the DL, but ended up reclaiming the spot and from mid-June on was strictly a starter.
In his final 18 starts of the regular season, Detwiler posted a 3.43 ERA with 31 walks (2.72 BB/9) and 59 Ks (5.19 K/9) over 102.1 IP in which opposing hitters had a .244/.304/.380 line against him. "[Detwiler] has really come a long way," Davey Johnson said when discussing the improvements the left-hander had made in the time he was the Nationals' manager. "A lot of these young pitchers, it generally takes, experience-wise, it generally takes a couple years. These guys have made tremendous progress this year. I give a lot of credit to Pitching Coach Steve McCatty.
The discussion this winter, before the Nationals signed Dan Haren, was about adding a fifth starter to the mix along with Detwiler, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman and Gio Gonzalez. In his sixth pro season, Detwiler finally broke through. Bill James' projections have the left-hander making 30 starts and posting a 3.98 ERA, 3.82 FIP, 3.00 BB/9 and 6.10 K/9 next year. There's little if any doubt now that barring any injuries or unexpected moves, Detwiler will be a part of the 2013 rotation.
In August of 2011, with the Nationals already out of the race for a postseason berth, Davey Johnson decided to move Tom Gorzelanny to the bullpen in favor of Detwiler, explaining to reporters at the time, "... if we were fighting for a pennant we might not do it, but since we're where we're at, it's time to look at some new young arms, and give them kind of an opportunity to kind of establish. That's what you do." A year later, Detwiler rewarded Johnson's faith and finally lived up to the hype that preceded his selection in the 1st Round of the '07 Draft.
In April 2007, then-scouting director Dana Brown told MLB.com's Bill Ladson that he watched Detwiler make a start for Team USA in 35° weather in Cuba that year and said to himself, "'The only thing I could think of is, 'This is an October-type pitcher.'" Detwiler came through in what was likely the biggest game in the franchise's history up to that point this past October.
Now Detwiler has to prove he can make it through an entire season in the rotation.