Towards the end of his long chat with reporters on Thursday afternoon, following the first official workout of 2013 for pitchers and catchers at the Washington Nationals' Spring Training facilities, Nats' skipper Davey Johnson talked a little about soon-to-turn 27-year-old '07 1st Round pick Ross Detwiler. The 6'5'' lefty who had a breakout season in 2012, wasn't guaranteed a roster spot heading into camp last year.
A last-minute decision was made to keep Detwiler in the rotation and send left-hander John Lannan to Triple-A Syracuse to start the 2012 campaign, but the St. Louis, Missouri-born, Missouri State University-educated sinker baller was in and out of the rotation early in the summer as veteran sinker baller Chien-Ming Wang returned from the DL and attempted to regain the form which led to him winning 19 games twice earlier in his career in New York.
Detwiler eventually claimed the starting role, and he finished his fifth major league season at a career-best +1.8 fWAR with a (10-8) record, a 3.40 ERA, 4.04 FIP, 52 walks (2.85 BB/9) and 105 Ks (5.75 K/9) in 33 games, 27 starts and 164.1 innings of work. According to Davey Johnson, however, it wasn't until the end of the season that Detwiler really started to figure things out on the mound.
"Det really started learning how to pitch maybe the last three outings," Johnson said, "I mean, he has such a good fastball, and he's stubborn as a mule, but he could get guys out with just his fastball. I mean, a 93-4 mph sinker, well-located, and he pitched in good, but he found out that if he used some of his other pitches, his curve ball and his breaking ball, it would be a little easier."
From the time Detwiler moved back into the starting rotation in late June through the end of the season, the left-hander was (6-5) in 18 starts and 102.1 IP over which he had a 3.43 ERA and held opposing hitters to a .244/.304/.380 line. His last few starts of the year, however, were not Detwiler at his best.
After holding the Braves and Dodgers to a combined 10 hits and two earned runs in back-to-back six-inning outings on September 14th and 20th, Detwiler got roughed up by the Phillies and Cardinals, who scored 12 runs (eight earned) on nine hits in just 7.1 IP in the left-hander's final two starts of the year. Detwiler finally started to get the message that his manager had been trying to drill into his head.
After a late August 2012 loss to the Atlanta Braves, Johnson said that though Detwiler had an "explosive fastball" that night, the problem was that, "... he didn't use his other pitches, he just used his fastball. The second time around he was also getting the ball up. But he did have an unbelievably good fastball. When he stayed down he was pretty much overmatching. But you've still got to use your other pitches."
When a reporter noted that Johnson had previously praised Detwiler's ability to beat opposing pitchers with his 93-4 mph sinker alone, the Nats' skipper said that as good a pitch as it was he had to use his other pitches. "You still have to have a curve ball and a changeup," Johnson said, "I think he might have thrown four. Because good hitters keep seeing one pitch, I don't care how good it is, eventually you're going to get hit."
Before Detwiler faced the Cardinals for the second time in consecutive starts in Game 4 of the NLDS in early October after he'd given up four hits, five walks and seven runs in 2.1 IP in his final regular season start, Johnson said he was confident the lefty could get the job done. Detwiler had made significant improvements over the course of the year in his manager's mind.
"A lot of these young pitchers, it generally takes, experience-wise, it generally takes a couple years," Johnson said, "These guys have made tremendous progress this year. I give a lot of credit to pitching coach Steve McCatty. They know what they're capable of doing, they know what their out pitch is, they know they need to use their secondary pitches more. Sometimes the problem comes with good young arms when they rely too much on their fastball."
Detwiler's line in the Nationals' season-extending Game 4 win? 6.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 2 Ks. With the season on the line, Detwiler kept the Nats in the game and Jayson Werth eventually won it with his memorable walk-off home run. After the game, Johnson was ecstatic. "I tell you," Johnson said, "I was so proud of [Detwiler]. He pitched. He didn't start the game overthrowing. He pitched. He used his -- in crucial spots, he used his changeup for a good strike. Used his curveball. Went in and out. He was just totally in control against a good-hitting ballclub. It was great. Fun watching."
Detwiler got the message, and as he starts the 2013 campaign as part of the Nationals' rotation this time around, with Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman and Dan Haren, Detwiler told his manager on Thursday that he remembered what he'd learned about using his secondary pitches effectively. "I even talked to him today when he was throwing," Davey Johnson told reporters, "and he said, 'Yeah, I plan to mix in a few of those.' And that's all experience. Arguably, the last couple of years he's been my best starter in the Spring when he did use those pitches. He learned a lot. So, I think his mindset's right where it needs to be."