Can The Nationals Rely On Ross Detwiler As Part Of The 2014 Rotation?

USA TODAY Sports

Ross Detwiler had an injury-shortened 2013 campaign in which he struggled with an oblique issue and a disc issue in his lower back. Can the Washington Nationals rely on Detwiler remaining healthy in 2014?

Ross Detwiler's 2012 campaign ended on a high note with the then-26-year-old left-hander giving up three hits and an unearned run in six innings of work in his first postseason start in Game 4 of the NLDS with St. Louis.

"Good young arm coming up and having success, there's still a higher ceiling there. I mean, he's pitched basically with his fastball and great location..." - Davey Johnson on Ross Detwiler early in 2013

Davey Johnson decided to work the 2007 1st Round pick back into the rotation after taking over on the bench in the middle of the 2011 campaign, and over a year later the lefty rewarded Johnson's faith with a strong outing in a must-win game against the Cardinals. Detwiler picked up where he left off in 2012 at the beginning of the 2013 campaign with four starts in which he was (1-1) with a 1.38 ERA in 26 IP in which he walked five (1.73 BB/9) and struck out 13 (4.50 K/9) with opposing hitters posting a .258/.308/.351 line against the southpaw.

The first month of Detwiler's sixth major league season ended with the starter surrendering 11 hits and four runs, three earned in five innings on the mound in a 5-2 loss to the Cincinnati Reds. As Johnson explained it after the game, Detwiler was relying too heavily on his fastball instead of mixing in his offspeed pitches.

"Pretty good fastball-hitting club and he started, after about the third inning, started mixing in some curve balls and started throwing some pretty good curve balls..." - Davey Johnson on Ross Detwiler vs the Cubs

"He still has a lot of growing to do," Johnson told reporters. "Good young arm coming up and having success, there's still a higher ceiling there. I mean, he's pitched basically with his fastball and great location and he's still got a great curve ball and changeup. So he hasn't really fully matured as far as I'm concerned." When Detwiler struggled to locate his fastball, he got in trouble. "There are times like that where he needs to use his whole arsenal," Johnson said. "He'll get there."

"From a managing standpoint" Johnson continued, "you like to see when you know they start applying all their weapons as a pitcher and going after them."

Two starts later, in a 6 2/3 inning outing against the Chicago Cubs in which he gave up eight hits and two runs in a 7-3 win, the Nationals' 70-year-old skipper said he saw the left-hander put it all together.

"Det pitched a good ballgame," the manager said. "It was a game where he learned that he had to mix in some curve balls. Pretty good fastball-hitting club and he started, after about the third inning, started mixing in some curve balls and started throwing some pretty good curve balls, getting ahead and it made it easy for him."

"Basically, he's a sinkerball pitcher," Johnson said. "He's still very young, learning how to use all his weapons in his arsenal..." - Davey Johnson on Detwiler's continued development

Detwiler agreed, telling reporters that mixing his curve in more often made a big difference. "I used it a few times," he said. "So, it's something that they just can't sit on a fastball any more so, I guess that's nice, throwing up another pitch." Just when he was starting to put it all together, however, a lower back injury (oblique strain) forced the left-hander from the rotation.

After almost a month on the DL, Detwiler returned to the mound in mid-June with a five-inning start against the Colorado Rockies. Detwiler threw 77 pitches, gave up up six hits and three runs and induced nine ground ball outs. The next time out, he went head-to-head with Phillies' lefty Cliff Lee.

Detwiler gave up three hits and one run in his first five innings of work that night, throwing 54 pitches, 35 of them strikes. A 31-pitch sixth in which he gave up four hits and three runs ended his outing though, in what ended up a 4-2 Nats' loss. The next time out, against the Colorado Rockies, Detwiler surrendered nine hits and seven runs in 3 2/3 IP in which he threw 68 pitches. Davey Johnson said it was once again a matter of Detwiler relying too heavily on his fastball.

"I was really encouraged," Johnson told reporters. "He had some good hitters scratching their head. He didn't use the changeup as much. He used the curve ball." - Davey Johnson on Ross Detwiler's pitch selection

"Basically, he's a sinkerball pitcher," Johnson said. "He's still very young, learning how to use all his weapons in his arsenal. Today, he didn't feel like he had a good sinker, could locate it real good, so he threw more changeups. But it's sequence pitching. He's been relying, since he's been here, basically, on his fastball. And that was a good fastball hitting club and if you don't hit your spots, sinkers down and away, they're going to hurt you."

Lower back stiffness cropped up after Detwiler's next-to-last start of the season against the New York Mets in Citi Field. His last start of 2013 came on July 3rd in the nation's capital, when he gave up eight hits and four runs, two earned, in six innings pitched against Milwaukee. His manager liked what he saw. "He was really using all his pitches the first couple of innings and he was outstanding," Johnson said. "Threw some great curve balls, and I think he lost the feel of it later in the game."

"I was really encouraged," Johnson told reporters. "He had some good hitters scratching their head. He didn't use the changeup as much. He used the curve ball. Usually his offspeed pitch is his change. But I thought he was throwing the heck out of the ball." Unfortunately, it would end up being the left-hander's last start of the season. In five starts after returning from his first stint on the DL, Detwiler was (0-3) with a 6.31 ERA in 25 2/3 IP over which opposing hitters had a .330/.368/.486 line. He went on the disabled list for the second time on July 7th.

Davey Johnson initially hoped Detwiler could return to the rotation after the All-Star Break, but he was eventually diagnosed with a herniated disc in his back which kept him off the mound until the first week of September.

"'We certainly go four deep with a healthy Detwiler,' Rizzo explained. 'With the depth that we have in our young starting pitching, we could certainly fill from within.'" - Mike Rizzo on Nats' 2014 rotation

Detwiler pitched in the Instructional League, but the Nats' outgoing skipper suggested he continue to throw this winter however he could to make sure that the back was no longer an issue. The left-hander's sixth major league season ended with him (2-7) with a 4.04 ERA, a 3.66 FIP, 14 walks and 39 Ks in 13 starts and 71 1/3 IP.

He threw 88.0% fastballs (4-seam/sinkers), up from 80.3% in 2012 and a 77.5% career average. After throwing 12.8 and 12.6% curve balls in 2011-12, respectively, he was down to 8.2% in 2013. Detwiler threw his changeup 13.7% of the time in 2011, 7.2% of the time in 2012 and just 3.8% in 2013.

Nats' General Manager Mike Rizzo talked about Detwiler as part of the rotation in a late-season discussion with reporters, including NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman, explaining that with the left-hander healthy, he felt there was enough pitching depth in the organization to fill out the rotation. "'We certainly go four deep with a healthy Detwiler," Rizzo explained. "With the depth that we have in our young starting pitching, we could certainly fill from within."

Without Detwiler, however, the Nationals have two question marks at the back of their rotation after Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann.

Can the Nats rely on their 2007 1st Round pick in 2014?

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