The Washington Times - April 18, 2013, 12:02AM

MIAMI — Sitting in the visitors’ dugout at Marlins Park on the evening before his third start of the season, Ross Detwiler spent a few minutes talking about the fact that he is a No. 5 starter. How he likes to come in, do his job, and then disappear for the other four days of the week. 

When it was suggested to him that on many other teams he would be no fifth starter, Detwiler shrugged. “I’ve never been on another team,” he said matter-of-factly. 

SEE RELATED:


But Wednesday night, in seven strong innings that led the Nationals to a 6-1 victory over the Miami Marlins, Detwiler showed yet again why the No. 5 starter designation is simply a formality when it comes to him. In the first 15 games of the season, not only has Detwiler been one of the Nationals’ best pitchers, he’s been one of the league’s.

Well, you know it’s pretty good when I let a pitcher hit with a man on third base late in the ballgame,” joked manager Davey Johnson, who allowed Detwiler to throw a career-high 107 pitches. “He pitched a heck of a ballgame.”

In fact, Detwiler has pitched well in each start he’s made this season, something his 0.90 ERA can attest to. Wednesday night was no different. Once again relying on an overwhelming use of his fastball — 100 of the 107 pitches he threw were either a four-seam fastball or a two-seam sinker — Detwiler didn’t walk a single batter and struck out five while scattering seven hits.

Bryce Harper, who needed intravenous fluids before the game to help hydrate him and said he threw up in the second inning as he continues to battle a stomach virus, was 4-for-5 to help back his pitcher’s effort. Adam LaRoche, Steve Lombardozzi and Kurt Suzuki also had multi-hit games to help fuel the Nationals’ offense against Ricky Nolasco.

But it was Detwiler, once again, who commanded the attention of everyone in attendance.

“He’s still in the learning stages,” Johnson said as he praised his pitcher after the game. “But he’s awfully good just right where he’s at.”

In the clubhouse, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman approached the Nationals’ left-hander. The two have been on the same team in the major leagues now for parts of six seasons. Zimmerman told Detwiler how much fun it was to play behind a guy who throws almost exclusively fastballs.

You don’t see it too much,” Zimmerman said. “But a well-located fastball is still the hardest pitch to hit in the big leagues. I think some people forget that sometimes.”

It’s easy to get carried away with Detwiler’s fastball reliance. The truth of it is that his four-seam fastball does something very different than his sinker and while they’re both called fastballs, they’re really two separate pitches.

Early on Wednesday, Detwiler said he struggled to locate his sinker. So he and Suzuki, who hit a triple and a home run to support his pitcher in the series-clinching victory, stuck with the four-seamer for a while. Eventually, they worked the sinker in with more frequency. 

“If you really think about it, it’s two different pitches,” Suzuki said, echoing Detwiler’s own sentiments. “But he throws to both sides of the plate, keeps the ball down, elevates it, throws 96 mph when he wants to. It makes it tough. It goes to show you how important having a good fastball, located, how effective it really is.”

Were it not for a questionable call at home plate, where Suzuki appeared to tag shortstop Chris Valaika on the helmet before he tagged home plate after a Donovan Solano single to right field, Detwiler would have boarded a plane for New York on Wednesday night with a 0.45 ERA. That would be good enough for the fourth-best mark in the major leagues. 

As it was, his 0.90 ERA was the sixth-best. 

Just as he seemed to do about the fact that his pitching greatly oversteps the role of a No. 5 starter, Detwiler seemed to take the success in stride.

“You go out there and try to win games,” he said. “I’ve been doing well, I’ve been keeping the ball down early. As the season goes on, your legs get a little more tired, your arm gets a little more tired, and you really just have to focus more on keeping the ball down. Then it’s kind of on to the next one. You don’t really dwell on how well you did the last couple. But that goes if you’ve had a rough couple, too. You have to move on to the next one.”

“The best thing he’s done is not change,” Zimmerman said. “I think he knows how he’s had success. He’s done well with throwing fastballs when so many other guys want to start throwing curveballs, or this or that, to strike people out. Ross is just, ‘Here you go. This is what it’s going to be, every time.’ … He’s a great guy to look at if you want to see that he uses his best pitch.”