While the question of whether or not Ross Detwiler will be ready to pitch in major league games before the Washington Nationals’ season ends remains open, Detwiler continues to plug away on his rehab for a herniated disc in his back.
On Wednesday, that meant upping the distance from which he played catch with a Nationals trainer to 120 feet.
Detwiler has been playing catch for about a week now, estimating on Tuesday night that he’d had five or six sessions of 50 throws at 60 and 90 feet, and each day he’s come away encouraged with the way his body feels.
“It’s coming out pretty good,” he said. “Better than it has all year.”
To this point, though, the Nationals have not revealed when Detwiler is expected to progress to getting on a mound. Though he quipped, after almost two full months since he last stood on one, it’s “not soon enough,” the training staff has been firm with Detwiler when he’s wanted to speed up his own timetable.
Detwiler believes there is still a window in which he can return to the Nationals this season, so long as he continues to progress well and follow the protocol laid out for him by back specialist Dr. Robert Watkins Sr.
If that is the case, all parties would likely be pleased.
But wherever it is that Detwiler gets himself back into game situations, the Nationals feel it is important for him to pitch again somewhere this year to test and ensure that his back has healed — and that he is not just experiencing an absence of symptoms due to the rest he’s had recently.
“My concern is that we won’t have enough of a window to see if he’s going to be past this injury,” said manager Davey Johnson. “It’s almost two months since he’s been on the mound, he probably feels pretty good. But is this something that’s going to recur when he gets in the regular rotation and has four or five starts?”
“I think he needs to pitch,” Johnson added, suggesting Detwiler may need to play in the Caribbean Winter League. “Maybe winter ball or something. But I said to (head trainer Lee Kuntz), ‘We’ve got to crank that thing up.’ (To see if) the rest cured the injury, or the symptoms of the injury and but the injury is still there. We need to know. If there’s a little bulge in there that’s pinching a nerve, we need to fix it. It’s that simple. Rather than rest, come to spring training and then early in the season, boom, he’s down.”
Johnson also pondered how long Detwiler had been dealing with the back issues. They didn’t become an issue severe enough for him to go on the disabled list until May 15 the first time. After a month-long stay on the disabled list, Detwiler returned. By July 4, he was back on the DL, and his visit to Dr. Watkins, which revealed the herniated disc, followed at the end of July.
“I don’t know if he hurt his back originally in the World Baseball Classic or something that early,” Johnson said. “He’s a pretty tough kid. He can pitch with pain. (But) after his first three or four starts, he seemed to be getting less effective, throwing a lot of pitches per inning, giving up more hits per innings, which is not typical of him.”
Detwiler has tried to remain upbeat about his situation. And as he’s continued to progress without pain, it has become easier for him to feel encouraged.
The left-hander said due to the rest, as well as concentrated physical therapy and workouts, his body feels stronger now than it usually does at this point in the season. He’s hopeful that will continue and he will be able to put the back issue further behind him.