ATLANTA — It won’t be until Tuesday or Wednesday, but at some point this week, Ross Detwiler will take the walk from the Washington Nationals’ dugout to their bullpen. After nine starts, six exceptional and three mediocre, Detwiler’s current stay in the starting rotation is over.
Chien-Ming Wang will start Wednesday, sliding the right-handed sinkerballer into the power lefty’s spot and realigning the Nationals’ pitching staff more the way they anticipated in spring training.
When Nationals manager Davey Johnson delivered that news to Detwiler on Saturday afternoon, he said it was not received pleasantly. Detwiler, the Nationals’ first-round pick in the 2007 draft, has been working his way toward becoming a mainstay in the Nationals’ rotation for years. With Wang straining a hamstring in spring training, he got his shot — the Nationals making sure of it when they optioned John Lannan to the minor leagues.
It was easy to understand, then, why the news wouldn’t go over very well. But a day later Detwiler had softened his stance.
“I’d rather be starting,” he said, only 10 of his 48 career appearances coming out of the bullpen. “But we’ve got a guy that’s year-in, year-out is just winning games. I wasn’t getting the job done at the time so, it’s still a chance to put on a big league uniform everyday.
“The way I look at it, I’m going from the best starting rotation in the big leagues to the best bullpen.”
Detwiler will fill a long relief role out of the bullpen, his youth and health making him a better candidate to do so than Wang, who has even less relief experience and an injury history that makes bullpen work cumbersome.
Detwiler’s performance the last three outings, in which he allowed 13 earned runs in 14 ⅓ innings pitched, was not the only factor but it certainly made the decision easier than it would have been had Detwiler been pitching the way he did in his first six outings (2.10 ERA in 34 ⅓ innings).
“We just want to attack the zone,” said pitching coach Steve McCatty. “He’s had nine starts. Six of them are really, really, really good. The other three he’s struggled.”
But even McCatty cautioned against looking at the move as a demotion for Detwiler, who in most other circumstances wouldn’t be ejected from the rotation after three rough starts. Before Wang got hurt, this was the way the Nationals had planned it to be. As Detwiler pointed out, “he’s just coming back and claiming his spot.”
“Chien-Ming was going to be starting,” McCatty said. “I guess if the season started over and nothing happened to Chien-Ming then he wouldn’t have gotten those starts. We’re back to square one. But Chien-Ming has got a lot of time in (and) he’s throwing the ball great. It’s part of the business. It happens.
“If Det wouldn’t have had a couple starts, the scenario could be different. But that didn’t happen. Det’s going to be here for a long time. He’s going to pitch and he’s going to be very good and when I’m gone and everybody’s gone, he’s still going to be here. It happens.”