- The Washington Times - Friday, April 6, 2012

CHICAGO — Amongst the commotion in the Washington Nationals’ locker room Tuesday afternoon — between the shock of the news that left-hander John Lannan had been demoted to Triple-A and the joy for a guy like Ryan Mattheus who was making his first Opening Day roster at age 28 — there was Ross Detwiler.

And there was bench coach Randy Knorr giving Detwiler the news that he’d spent what seemed like an eternity waiting to hear: He was in the Nationals’ starting rotation.

“He kind of looked at me like, ‘You knew, didn’t you?’” Knorr recalled Thursday afternoon from the clubhouse at Wrigley Field. “I didn’t say anything, I just let him go.”

Detwiler will be the No. 5 starter, at least until Chien-Ming Wang returns healthy, and the Nationals gave their 26-year-old power lefty the ultimate vote of confidence with their decision. Detwiler could have been the team’s swing man. He could have served as a long reliever or a spot starter while Lannan — a battle-tested veteran who led lesser Nationals’ staffs — started every fifth day in Wang’s absence.

But as the spring progressed and Detwiler rarely faltered, general manager Mike Rizzo ruminated over his Opening Day roster. He thought about Detwiler’s dominant September audition in the rotation, about his gifted left arm hitting 95 mph on the Nationals Park radar gun and about the desire for this Nationals team not to be just a training ground for the future. He couldn’t justify the current configuration.

“I felt I was doing him and the other 24 men on the team a disservice by hiding him in the bullpen and pitching him in mop-up roles,” Rizzo said Thursday. “We felt we had five guys better than him.”

Lannan, who reported to Triple-A Thursday, has since asked to be traded. Meantime, Detwiler was at Wrigley Field, talking and Laughing with Knorr before his first Opening Day in the major leagues.

“It’s like, ‘Wow, OK,’” Knorr said. “Not only is he confident in himself now, he believes that we are, too. and I’m hoping it carries over.”

To understand what the moment meant for both, you’d have to go back a few years. Back to when Detwiler, then a 22-year-old kid, stumbled into Knorr’s clubhouse at Single-A Potomac. Looking at the former first-round draft pick, Knorr saw a kid with immense talent and the wrong attitude. Three years wore on that way, through injury and inconsistency, with Detwiler rushed to the major leagues on more than one occasion, only to be sent back down.

Until one afternoon last May when Detwiler went to Knorr seeking advice after a putrid 3⅔-inning, six-earned-run performance, and the then Syracuse manager told him exactly how he felt.

“I said, ‘I don’t like to use other players to compare with but I will this time,’” Knorr said in September. “‘David Price gives up a hit, he gets the ball back and says, “There ain’t nobody getting another hit today.” You, you give up a hit you’ve got that stupid-ass smirk on your face that I want to go out there slap off you. And I think you need to change that.’”

This spring Detwiler carried himself with a bit more edge, perhaps, than in years past.

He chafed at all the questions about the Nationals bringing in Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson, about how it likely crowded him out of a rotation he looked to have all-but made last fall. He pitched with confidence and conviction — then and last fall — and didn’t let things unravel after one bad pitch the way he might have in the past. Asked constantly about his role, he’d generally just shrug his shoulders and let the question pass with a casual “whatever.”

But he was dominant in a late-spring start against the Miami Marlins’ ‘A’ lineup. And one day toward the end of the spring, during bunting drills, Knorr approached Detwiler about the possibility of being moved back into the rotation.

“I’m ready,” he said. “I want to do it.”