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Detwiler sparkles as Nationals take doubleheader from Phillies

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PHILADELPHIA — Over the course of Ross Detwiler’s 27 previous major league starts, he’s shown promise and possibility in a left arm dripping with potential. And there have been times where all of that is overshadowed by his attitude toward the task at hand, a confounding frustration when he hits a wall and, suddenly, the things he does so well on good days simply escape him.

But what Detwiler did in the 28th major league start of his career, in front of over 45,000 screaming Philadelphia Phillies fans was all of the former and not a hint of the latter.

Second baseman Danny Espinosa said it was “the best I’ve ever seen him.”

Nationals manager Davey Johnson called him “letter perfect,” and admitted that he “couldn’t say enough good things about him.”

When Tommy Milone went out and delivered six scoreless innings in a 4-3 Nationals victory Tuesday afternoon, there were few who expected his would be the opening act for an even stronger show of lefty dominance.

In simple terms, the 7 ⅓ scoreless innings Detwiler threw in a 3-0 Nationals win that swept a doubleheader from the Phillies was the finest performance of his major league career -- and it was without parallel. It was also not without help and came on a night filled with milestones: Espinosa’s 20th home run and Drew Storen’s 40th save of the season (and second of the day), and the longest Nationals road winning streak (six games) since a nine-game run from July 29 to August 10, 1994 as the Montreal Expos.

“This is our future,” Johnson said. “These young left-handers coming up and pitching well against this ballclub; the young players, Espinosa and (Ian) Desmond, playing well against a great pitching staff.

“We’re growing, little by little, in a lot of areas. We’re competing against the best in baseball, as far as I’m concerned. The maturation process is coming along pretty good.”

Detwiler was maniacally efficient through his first six innings, throwing 12 pitches in a 1-2-3 second inning and not needing more than 10 in any of the frames that followed. He finished the sixth inning in eight pitches and though he needed 19 to work through a walk and a hit batter in the seventh, he was able to secure the longest outing of his career with one out in the eighth inning.  

Even without his best curveball, Detwiler focused on keeping the ball down and pounded the strike zone in that manner. Of the 51 strikes he threw, only four of them were swinging strikes. And he kept one of the best lineups in baseball off balance and off the basepaths for much of the night while his offense made one of the league’s most impenetrable lefties look like a mere mortal.

In pounding out a season-high 11 hits off Cliff Lee, including multi-hit games from Espinosa, Desmond and Morse, the Nationals helped even their season series with Philadelphia at 8-8 -- the best record against Philadelphia by any NL East team.

“I didn't know what our record was against them,” Espinosa said. “But I know we always play them well. Win or lose I know we always play them well -- and the Phillies know that, too. We enjoy playing here and trying to get some games.”

They got two on Tuesday. With eight games remaining in their season, the Nationals still have a shot at a winning record. If they can go 7-1, they’ll do it. They took a big step forward toward that -- and potential 2012 success -- with their performance Tuesday.

“This team is building for the future and the future is the young guys on this team right now,” said Jayson Werth, who left the game with a right elbow contusion in the seventh inning. “I think everybody in here knows where we're trying to go.”

“You can tell we're on the right path (for the future),” Detwiler said. “And we're heading toward the playoffs.”

 

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