In order to fully understand what Ross Detwiler did on the mound at Nationals Park on Sunday afternoon in the Nationals 3-0 victory over the Braves, it’s important, first, to go back to late May. Back to when Detwiler was floundering in Triple-A and was coming off a putrid 3 ⅔-inning, six earned run performance against the Twins’ affiliate.
Later that day, back at his office in Syracuse writing the game report, Triple-A manager Randy Knorr looked up to see his starting pitcher staring back at him.
“What the (heck) do you want?” Knorr asked him. “He said, ‘I want to talk. What’s going on. I want to know what you think.’ I told him. I said ‘You need to change your attitude.’”
Detwiler had been in the Nationals’ organization since 2007, their first-round draft pick that year, and had shuttled back and forth between the minors and the majors for much of that time. His development was stinted by being rushed, sure, but it was his attitude toward his poor performances that seemed to be holding him back the most. He had, as pitching coach Steve McCatty called it, often exhibited a “stubborn streak,” when others tried to guide him.
“I said, ‘I don’t like to use other players to compare with but I will this time,’” Knorr recalled. “’David Price gives up a hit, he gets the ball back and says, ‘There ain’t nobody getting another hit today.’ You, you give up a hit you’ve got that stupid ass smirk on your face that I want to go out there slap off you. And I think you need to change that.’”
The conversation hit home with Detwiler who went on to record a 2.45 ERA in six starts in June and get his first major league call-up of the season in the first week of July. As he stood on the mound Sunday afternoon, holding the Braves to six scoreless innings in his final start of the 2011 season, Detwiler showed just how far he’d come.
In the third inning, all of that maturation was on display. Detwiler broke up two perfect innings by allowing a leadoff single to David Ross but what happened next was worse: he lost the strike zone. He walked Jack Wilson on eight pitches and then pitcher Mike Minor on four. He’d loaded the bases with no outs. If ever there was a time to have an edge, this was it.
Detwiler then got Michael Bourn and Martin Prado to hit shallow fly outs to left and right field, respectively, and induced a grounder to third by Chipper Jones. It was a Houdini act that, most likely, Detwiler wouldn’t have been able to pull even a few months ago.
“I think he grew up a lot today,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. “He pitched out of a tough jam with the bases loaded with some awfully good hitters up there. That was a great effort on his part.”
The Nationals have been hoping this was the Ross Detwiler they’d see eventually as they invested time and money into the talented lefty with an arm who could throw 95 — a place not too many other left-handers can reach. As he leaves them with a lasting impression that includes a 0.95 ERA in his last three starts and back-to-back shutouts over the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves, it’s difficult to think Detwiler has not solidified himself as part of their rotation going forward.
“You always wish you were rolling for as long as you can and it kind of comes to an end here,” Detwiler said. “But hopefully I’ll pick up next year where I leave off this year.”
“There’s a lot of guys hungry to get in this rotation,” Johnso said. “The effort that you’re seeing is outstanding and he’s definitely in the picture of the starting rotation… This was probably the biggest game of the year for him, going against this club and holding him down to zilch. Just a great effort and coming off shutting out the Phillies for seven-plus. That was back-to-back great efforts against good-hitting ballclubs.”