Tuesday night, Ross Detwiler made his first start in the major leagues since September 29, 2010. He pitched five innings of scoreless baseball, surrendered a leadoff double to Reed Johnson and a one-out, two-run home run to Aramis Ramirez.
He also won, something he found has been happening a lot with his major league team when he joined them for the first time this season.
“It’s a winning attitude here now,” Detwiler said, just hours after stepping foot inside the Nationals clubhouse. “A couple years ago, I don’t think people came here not to win, it just wasn’t the atmosphere. There was a lot of losing going on. But you can definitely tell it’s been a complete turn here.”
The lone blemish on his night Tuesday was the two-run homer to Ramirez, a changeup that looked to be low and somewhat off the plate and not wholly a poor pitch — but Detwiler’s best one is a sinker, and it wasn’t one of those.
“It’s not good getting beat with one of your secondary pitches,” he said. “I thought it was going to be caught. The ball just kept going. He’s a strong guy, he just went and got it.”
It was also the third time through the Cubs lineup. The third time, with Detwiler, can be the key. While the left-hander has very little trouble baffling hitters in their first go-around, the success becomes less and less the more they see him. In his major league career, which, to be fair, spans just 19 starts, Detwiler holds opponents to a .222 average the first time through a lineup. The second time through that number jumps to .300 and the third time through it skyrockets to .404.
The plan Tuesday was to get Todd Coffey up as soon as someone got on as Detwiler came to the top of the Cubs order for the third time and Johnson admitted that he was too slow to pull the trigger on the bullpen. He wanted Coffey to face Ramirez but he didn’t get him in in time.
“I just know that this ball club really can waffle left-handers,” Johnson said. “I was really hurting to get five (innings). If I got five, actually, I, told (pitching coach Steve McCatty), ‘If somebody gets on, get him up.’ I really had wanted Coffey for Ramirez. I’m rusty. I messed that up.”
But overall, Detwiler did his job on Tuesday, making a spot start for the Nationals after a weekend doubleheader left them without a starter on regular rest for the second game of a four-game series with the Cubs. He turned a one-run lead over to a bullpen that has been put in the third-most high leverage situations in the National League. They did their job as well.
“It’s unbelievable,” Detwiler said.
He may soon be a part of that group as Nationals manager Davey Johnson said before the game that he’d like to keep Detwiler around as a second left-hander out of the bullpen — but keep him on a starter’s schedule to use as a long man and emergency starter.
For him to even have that opportunity is a testament to what he did to pull himself together after a horrendous month of May. Detwiler came out of a superb spring training with a solid month of April, going 2-0 with a 2.22 ERA.
May was a different story. The left-hander was 1-5 with an 8.70 ERA and, as he put it, “giving up a lot of cheap hits.” But after a meeting with Triple-A manager Randy Knorr and pitching coach Greg Booker, Detwiler refocused and returned to a more aggressive, attacking style of pitching. The mental change helped him to a 3-1 month of June with a 2.45 ERA.
“It’s kind of hard to describe,” Detwiler said of the changes he made. “I’ve just kind of had more of an attitude, for lack of a better phrase. I really feel like I’ve been attacking hitters lately. I’ve been getting ahead and that’s huge with me.”
Relieving is something Detwiler has done at the major league level but it would certainly be an adjustment for the former first-round draft pick. For one night, anyway, he’d been given no indication how long his stay with the big league team might be.
“I’m sure they’re going to talk to me at some point about what’s going on,” he said. “You come ready to pitch for one day and anything after that’s a blessing.”