Davey Johnson was happy with the way left-hander Ross Detwiler was progressing. After a rough five-inning outing to end the first month of the 2013 season which saw the Cincinnati Reds bang out 11 hits and four runs, three earned in a 5-2 win over Washington in the nation's capital, the Nationals' manager said the 27-year-old southpaw was still learning and improving but not quite there yet. "At some point," Johnson said, "Det will start using all his pitches, mixing them in a la [Jordan Zimmermann]. But that's a maturation process and trial and error."
The veteran manager said he was waiting patiently for the Nats' '07 1st Round pick to put it all together.
"From a managing standpoint" Johnson said, "you like to see when you know they start applying all their weapons as a pitcher and going after them."
"Good young arm coming up and having success," Johnson continued. "But," he paused, "... 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 curveball and changeup. So he hasn't really fully matured as far as I'm concerned."
Two starts later, Johnson saw what he wanted. Detwiler gave up eight hits, six of them doubles in a start at home in D.C. against Chicago, but lasted 6 2/3 innings against the Cubs and started mixing in his secondary pitches as the game went on. "Det pitched a good ballgame," Johnson 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 curveballs and started throwing some pretty good curveballs, getting ahead and it made it easy for him."
Detwiler was (2-3) at that point, having put up a 2.53 ERA with eight walks (1.68 BB/9) and 23 Ks (4.85 K/9) in seven starts and 42 2/3 IP. One start later, however, the left-hander injured his oblique in a start against the Dodgers in LA. Detwiler returned to the mound a month later, but wasn't as sharp. In five starts after the DL stint for his oblique, he put up a 6.31 ERA with four walks (1.40 BB/9) and 16 Ks (5.61 K/9) in 25 2/3 IP. In early July, Detwiler was placed on the DL with a back injury, originally labeled a lower back strain, but later diagnosed as a disc issue in his back which was pinching a nerve. The disc issue kept him off the mound for the rest of the 2013 campaign.
Last weekend at NatsFest, which was held in the Gaylord Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, MD, Detwiler said he learned an important lesson in a frustrating campaign.
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"When not to push it," he said when asked if there was anything he took from the season. "I think every injury is going to be different, but I'm not going to try to push through like I did last year. I started the year great and then had a little oblique problem in LA and then tried to just push through that and do everything I could and I lost my location, I was walking a few people and then I'd kind of throw a ball down the middle and get hit hard. So, the thing I guess I learned the most was how I have to feel before I have to sit out instead of just trying to push through it."
Detwiler returned to the mound this fall for rehab work in Florida in the instructional league, where he was, by his own estimation, back to 100% and, according to a Washington Post report this winter, back up to 94-96 with his fastball. "After instructs I proved my health to everybody and myself," he said. "Went home, had a normal offseason, started throwing a little sooner this year with all the time off, so I feel like I'm ready to go already. Kind of itching to get back out there."
"It feels like it should be Spring Training already for me since I started working out and started throwing earlier," Detwiler said, "so I feel like I'm ready to go. Kind of can't wait to get out there."
Though he said he was sure he was healthy, he also noted that there was only one way to prove the back issues are behind him.
"Throw a full season," Detwiler said.
When he reports to Viera, FL in two weeks, he'll be taking part in a competition to name the fifth starter in a rotation that, barring any issues, will feature a top four of Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister. "The first four, the top four, we can go up against any rotation, anywhere," Detwiler said.
Detwiler also said he had no problem competing for and earning the fifth spot.
"I've done it every single year so it's nothing different for me," he 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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