HOUSTON — On Tuesday night in Houston, Ross Detwiler threw his sinker 69 times. Of his 85 pitches, 75 of them were fastballs.
Last Thursday night in Washington, Detwiler threw 78 fastballs in his 88 pitches and 22 of them were sinkers.
Detwiler possesses a a curveball and a changeup, too. But in his last two starts, as he’s pitched 14 innings, allowed six hits and two earned runs total, he’s thrown 173 pitches and 153 of them have been fastballs (whether four-seam or sinking).
The results are hard to argue with.
In eight starts since being moved back into the Nationals’ starting rotation, Detwiler, who’d pitched into the seventh inning or later precisely twice in his career before the 2012 season, has done it four different times in the last five games. He’s made his five longest starts of the season, is averaging 6 1/3 innings per start and has a 2.55 ERA in that stretch.
And in those seven-inning starts, only once has his pitch count broken 90.
“That’s it,” Detwiler said when asked if the emergence of his sinker and his reliance on the fastball explains the recent efficiency.
“I’m throwing a lot of sinkers, I’m throwing a lot of fastballs. They’re trying to jump on it early, and they’re trying to get a good pitch to hit. If I can make my pitch, that’s what I want to do. I want to get out of there early, and I’ll be able to go deeper in games.”
On Tuesday night that meant throwing the sinker and basically forgetting everything else.
Detwiler struggled to locate his four-seam fastball early, the two-run homer he surrendered coming on one high and over the middle of the plate to Ben Francisco in the first inning, so Jesus Flores went with the sinker and Detwiler began racking up the ground-ball outs.
“Flo noticed it right away (that my command with the four-seam was lacking),” Detwiler said. “And after that first inning we didn’t really go in all that much. I was just trying to throw strikes with the sinker.”
With each start Detwiler makes this season he seems to come away from it with more belief in himself and conviction in his pitches. This is the longest sustained run of success he’s had in the major leagues and the way he’s done it, with a formula that follows the Nationals’ and pitching coach Steve McCatty’s philosophy to the letter, is the most encouraging sign from the entire body of work.
He doesn’t want to call himself a sinkerballer, his four-seam, curveball and changeup still strong and available, but if he felt like it, the name would be apt, and he’d be one that hit 95 mph with the pitch Tuesday night.
“I’m starting to get a lot of confidence in it and throw it where I want it every time, instead of hoping it goes there,” Detwiler said. “(Tuesday), it was huge for me. I didn’t have good location at the beginning of the game with four-seamers. As long as the sinker is going to work, I’m going to use it from there on out.”