NEW YORK — Early Wednesday afternoon, Ross Detwiler was out in the bullpen at Citi Field with a crowd watching. As trainers and coaches gathered around, Detwiler threw 30 pitches off the mound — fastballs and breaking balls — and came away from his second bullpen session since July continuing to feel encouraged by his progress.
Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson said Detwiler, who has been on the disabled list since July 4 with a herniated disc in his back, will throw at least two more bullpen sessions (with one on Saturday) and then possibly a simulated game before the team further plans out his schedule.
“He really felt good afterwards,” Johnson said. “His stuff was good… It sounds like today was the best he’s thrown.”
At the very least, it appears to be a realistic possibility that the left-hander will return to the active roster before the season is out, even if he is used only in relief because there is too little time to build his arm strength up enough to start.
The prospect of returning at all entices him.
“I figure I’m past everything (pain-wise),” Detwiler said. “I’m excited to be able to get into a game, hopefully. It kind of makes all this work and everything I’ve been doing for the past couple months worth it.”
The back issues have plagued Detwiler since at least mid-May, derailing a season that began with exceptional promise for the left-hander.
In April, Detwiler pitched to a 2.03 ERA. But he came out of a game on May 15 with what was originally termed back spasms, which turned into a back strain, and he struggled to regain his form after that.
A visit to renowned back specialist Dr. Robert Watkins Sr. at the end of July finally diagnosed the issue as a herniated disc in his back. Detwiler has been working hard to rehab the injury since then.
He may have to pitch in the instructional league in Viera, Fla., or the in one of the Caribbean winter leagues, in order to recoup some of the many innings he missed this season and prepare himself fully for 2014. Detwiler, who has been upbeat throughout the process, said the prospect of winter ball was presented to him in passing but right now his focus remains on returning to the Nationals this season.
“It felt great,” he said. “I feel like the ball’s coming out better than it has in a long time.”