MILWAUKEE — The glove on Ross Detwiler's right hand bore the brunt of his frustration.
Nestled beneath his nose, covering lips that were busy uttering words likely unfit for television, Detwiler's black Rawlings model took the heat with every step the left-hander took between the mound and the dugout in the fifth inning of the Nationals' 6-0 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday night at Miller Park.
"I don't want to come out of the game ever," Detwiler said. "Especially in a spot like that. I put us in a hole early."
It's a position that's somewhat unfamiliar for a Nationals starting pitcher to be in this season, watching manager Davey Johnson make a slow walk to the mound to end his night after just 4 ⅔ innings. While the team's starters haven't pitched into the eighth and ninth innings routinely, at least six or seven has become almost routine.
But for Johnson, it wasn't because Detwiler, who'd mowed the Brewers down for the first three innings, looked worn out or because he felt the left-hander was getting hit around and the heart of the Brewers order was due up with runners on.
Johnson surveyed the scene. He watched as Brewers rookie Mike Fiers — who finished with 6 ⅓ scoreless innings, scattering four hits and three walks while striking out nine — was baffling his hitters. His funky delivery deceived them, his curveball froze them.
"We very rarely see someone whose [arm angle] is that high up," said second baseman Danny Espinosa, who joined the majority of his teammates with hitless evenings. "Definitely deceptive. Balls that you thought were lower than they were ended up at your knees. And balls you thought were at your knees were higher than what you thought."
Detwiler struggled in the fourth. He got two quick strikeouts, then allowed a double to Aramis Ramirez that was promptly followed by a two-run homer by Corey Hart. The fifth was similar, and Johnson was forced to make a choice. The manager felt, in that moment, the Nationals simply weren't going to have the same type of offensive night they've made a habit of this month.
And he didn't want to waste Detwiler in a game he seemed to feel his team was unlikely to win.
"I was actually pleased with the way Det threw the ball," Johnson said, yanking his No. 5 starter after 83 pitches with the score 3-0. "I know he probably doesn't understand that one, but giving up three runs I'm hoping my bullpen can hold it right there. Unfortunately [they] didn't.
"That was going to be a game where I'm not going to let him throw a lot of pitches when it doesn't look like we're going to mount much of an attack. It was going to be a low-scoring game on our side and I had some guys in the bullpen who needed a little work. I was pleased with the way he threw, except for a couple pitches."
The realities of a 162-game season can hit you quickly and for the Nationals that impact came Friday night. Twenty-four hours earlier they'd won their sixth straight, moved to 20 games over .500 for the first time in franchise history and tied the New York Yankees for the best record in baseball.
One day later, they were knocked back, suffering a defeat that shrank their their National League East lead to four over the Atlanta Braves, who defeated the Philadelphia Phillies for the fifth time this season.
Detwiler couldn't duplicate the dominance he'd found in his previous two outings and Craig Stammen's night came down to a Ryan Braun single flared to right and a hanging slider to Ramirez that was crushed for a home run to center. Both lamented their mistakes. Breaking pitches left up, baserunners allowed to run wild.
And an offense that was shutout for just the third time all season left them dangling as the Brewers' cushion continued to grow.
"I could tell by the way we were hitting the ball that if [Fiers] kept throwing it over, we were going to have a hard time scoring," Johnson said, shrugging his shoulder as if to explain with that one motion that even the best teams in baseball can't win every night.
"Just one of those days," he said.
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