LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLA. — When Ross Detwiler was done with his work for the day, when it was time to stand in front of reporters and discuss what he thought of his outing Tuesday afternoon, he had no trouble coming up with what he thought was the best aspect of his 2 2/3 innings of work.
“It went well,” Detwiler said. “I think I was 8-of-14 first-pitch strikes. I really wanted to focus on first-pitch strikes.”
It was a simple enough focus. It’s one that every pitcher, to a man, will tell you they’re trying to do when they’re on the mound. The advantages in getting ahead of a hitter 0-1, compared to falling behind, are far too many to be listed here. It can change the entire complexion of the at-bat, though.
Detwiler recognizes this and along with mixing in his offspeed pitches more often — he pointed out his success in doing that as well with the eight he threw in 41 pitches — he wants to practice at it this spring. But it’s not exactly a new focus.
“It always really is (a focus),” Detwiler said. “I just kinda (stunk) at it the last few years. I’m getting a little better.”
Detwiler is not wrong.
He has improved his percentage of first-pitch strikes with each season he’s established himself more in the major leagues. In 2010 it was only 51 percent of the time that he would throw a first-pitch strike. In 2011, he improved that to 55 percent. And in 2012, the year that could easily be looked at as the left-hander’s breakout, that number jumped to 60.5 percent.
The importance of doing so? When Detwiler fell behind batters 1-0 in 2012 opposing batters hit him at a .259 clip. When he went ahead, that figure dropped to .199. That’s a noticeable difference.
On Tuesday, despite the fact that it was his first start of the spring, Detwiler was tested. He faced a Braves lineup that included six regulars, including Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Freddie Freeman and B.J. Upton. He allowed two runs, both in his final frame, on RBI-singles by the Upton brothers but otherwise he kept them mostly off-balance. He struck out Heyward looking on a curveball and held Freeman hitless.
He will leave on March 4 for the World Baseball Classic, and he was asked Tuesday how this helped prepare him to pitch in a competitive game in about two weeks time.
“I was just in a competitive game,” Detwiler said. “You saw the lineup they put out there today. I could’ve been embarrassed pretty easily. I think this helped me out a lot, seeing a lot of their top guys. It makes you focus on keeping the ball down because every one of them could hit the ball a mile.”