Under now-former Manager Davey Johnson's guidance, '07 Washington Nationals' 1st Round pick Ross Detwiler transitioned from a bullpen role back to the starting rotation between mid-to-late 2011 and 2012. Detwiler won a spot in the 2012 rotation late in Spring Training that year and fought off contenders for the spot throughout the season which culminated for Detwiler with his breakthrough Game 4 start in the NLDS.
Detwiler struggled to stay on the mound in 2013, however, dealing with oblique and disc issues in his lower back which limited the left-hander to just 13 starts over which he put up a 4.04 ERA and a 3.66 FIP with 14 walks (1.77 BB/9) and 39 Ks (4.92 K/9) in 71 1/3 IP. Detwiler finished at +0.9 fWAR a year after a career-best +1.6 fWAR campaign in 2012.
Detwiler's struggles last season led to the Nationals deciding the 28-year-old lefty would compete for the fifth spot in the rotation this spring along with 25-year-old right-hander Taylor Jordan and 27-year-old righty Tanner Roark.
In a conversation with reporters this winter, Detwiler said he had no problem competing for a spot as he has every spring.
"I've done it every single year so it's nothing different for me," Detwiler said. "I've never had just a spot given to me. It's always kind of been just up for grabs and I've won it in the past and think I can do it again if I stay healthy and throw well."
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Nats' GM Mike Rizzo talked openly about Detwiler, who is out of options, being a potential bullpen candidate if he lost out in the battle for the final rotation spot.
Entering Spring Training, however, Detwiler was the front-runner to win the last spot. He made three starts for the Nationals, giving up 14 hits, one walk and six runs, five earned in seven innings before new Nats' skipper Matt Williams announced today that Detwiler will start the season in the bullpen.
Detwiler, according to a report by the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore, was not happy with the decision, but as Williams told reporters today, "'I wouldn’t expect him to be.'"
The decision, Williams explained to the WaPost reporter, was done for the best of the team:
"'He provides something special out of the bullpen for us. I don’t if anybody would ever be really happy with something like that. We don’t feel like it’s a demotion of any sort. We just feel like we’re a better team with him coming out of our bullpen. He offers something that’s special — power lefty, mid-90s lefty. It doesn’t mean he won’t start at some point in the future.'"
Over the course of his career, Detwiler has thrown 32 1/3 innings out of the bullpen, posting a 1.11 ERA and a 4.03 FIP as a reliever, while holding opposing hitters to a .171/.283/.255 line.
While Williams mentioned the possibility of a return to the rotation as a possibility, Detwiler in the bullpen gives the Nationals the two left-handed relievers the first-year skipper said he would prefer to have in the 'pen along with Jerry Blevins, who was acquired from the Oakland A's this winter. Xavier Cedeno and Mike Gonzalez are still in camp competing for spots in the bullpen too and 25-year-old, 2010 2nd Round pick Sammy Solis has been talked about as an option this year.
With Detwiler out of the mix at the start of the season, Williams said today that Taylor Jordan, Tanner Roark and Chris Young were competing for the fifth spot.
Are the Nationals better off with Ross Detwiler in the bullpen?