ATLANTA — It was a conversation not unlike the many Ian Desmond has with a pitcher throughout the course of a night. He can see the signs, the frustration building. That’s his cue to go to the mound, calm his pitcher and remind him that getting out of whatever situation they’re in is never as complex as it seems.
That’s what he saw Friday night. After Ross Detwiler had two strikes on Freddie Freeman and hit him with a curveball. What he saw after Detwiler thought he heard someone call time, moved his foot from his set but didn’t throw and was called for a balk, one that moved two runners into scoring position with one out and a four-run lead that had been cut to two.
The scouting report on Braves rookie Andrelton Simmons was that he chases pitches up. Desmond reminded Detwiler, who now had two outs, that they were one pitch away from ending things.
Go curveball, Desmond said to Detwiler. He had Simmons down 1-2. Throw the curveball, Detwiler agreed, and then go fastball, fastball if you have to. Detwiler never got to the fastballs.
He slumped his shoulders, put his hands on his knees and looked on in disgust as Simmons rounded the bases. His uniform, the one he’d changed multiple times already, was soaked through. The gray a darker version than the one it was when he put it on before 7:35 p.m. Manager Davey Johnson came out to get him.
As he walked off the mound, he jiggled the glove free from his right hand and chucked it into the dugout ahead of him. His night was over. After the game, Desmond sat at his locker regretting the advice. Detwiler stood, regretting the execution.
In 40 career starts, Detwiler has finished the seventh inning in only one of them. He wanted to do so Friday. Bad.
“I really wanted to finish that seventh inning,” he said. “We had an extra-inning game (Thursday) and (the relievers) need their rest.”
But for Detwiler, while, as he put it “the home run was kind of big,” it was a lot of little things that transpired to take his six-inning gem and make it separate from a seventh-inning nightmare.
“The biggest thing that sticks out was I had somebody (Freeman) with two strikes and tried to throw a curveball and I hit him with it,” Detwiler said. “I think it all started right there.”
Fielding a swinging bunt would have helped. So too, would have not balking. As Detwiler works on the mound, it’s important for the frustration those little things cause not to affect what happens next — as it is with any pitcher — but for Detwiler in particular.
For as much progress as he’s made, evolving from a guy who couldn’t make it past the fifth inning at the major league level to the type of power lefty the Nationals know he can be, not allowing the little things to roll into a big thing and combust might be his last hurdle.
“There’s little things that happen in pretty much every at-bat,” Detwiler said. “(The balk), that was a little thing there. Moved two runners into scoring position and, you know, it’s a different ballgame if there’s not two runners in scoring position. They don’t score those two runs. It’s just completely different.”
“If could have fielded a couple swinging bunts he could have got out of it,” Johnson said. “And just a lot of other things worked against him. Then he made a bad pitch to Simmons.”
Moments later, after Sean Burnett was summoned to finish the frame, Michael Morse made the entire saga moot. It was a fastball that felled Braves reliever (and former Nationals non-roster invitee) Chad Durbin. It was a fastball that made Detwiler’s curveball (and essentially his outing) a moot point in the box score.
“It was a strong effort,” Johnson said. “We needed it so bad I can’t even tell you. Our bullpen was kind of beat up. It’s a shame. He should have got the win. I wished I could have got him the win.”