VIERA, Fla. — As the beating sun that drenched Space Coast Stadium for much of the day began to recede Friday evening, Ross Detwiler emerged to begin his stretching. Routine is important to Detwiler. Not having one is perhaps the biggest hurdle he'll have to jump in order to transition to being a full-time reliever.
So it was, with a thousand things running through his head Friday — preparing for his final spring outing, facing the Miami Marlins' 'A' lineup — that Detwiler thought about Miguel Batista.
This was, after all, originally Stephen Strasburg's day to pitch, but his start was pushed back a day in order to align him for the April 5 Opening Day outing. And the last time someone started in place of Strasburg, Detwiler recalled that fans weren't too happy about it. Fans at Nationals Park booed when Strasburg was scratched from his start with shoulder stiffness during warmups his rookie season and Batista got the emergency nod.
"They announced Miggy's name and everyone booed," Detwiler recalled. "That was my thought when I was out there stretching."
On his way out to the bullpen for the game that night two years ago, Detwiler passed Batista. He was sitting watching a television show on his iPad. A few minutes later, he was warming up to start the game.
Detwiler wasn't nearly that rushed Friday. In fact, of all his spring outings on the major league side of camp, he had more time to ready himself for this one than he did any of the others. He's got a ticket for the Nationals' bullpen once they head north, but as he proved once again with five dominant innings (one run, five strikeouts) in the Nationals' 3-2 victory, he's a starter.
"You see why we like him," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said with a wry smile. "He's not in the rotation. [But] he's very valuable and very important on the ballclub."
"Nobody really booed, that I heard," Detwiler joked.
In all likelihood, by the time the 2012 season stats are compiled, Detwiler will have spent plenty of time in the rotation — something that seemed like a lock when 2011 closed. But that was before Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo went out and re-stocked the cupboards with few more major league arms in Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson.
So when he goes out and pitches the way he did Friday night, getting ahead of hitters, mixing his pitches, getting out of jams (like the bases-loaded one he had with Giancarlo Stanton at the plate) all it does is further his eventual portfolio as a starting pitcher.
Relieving is an adjustment. Any starter who has been converted will tell you that. The way Detwiler's being asked to do it, to be ready to throw the way he can — the way he did Friday — on short notice and oftentimes short rest will take some getting used to. Detwiler knows he'll have to figure out how to be that sharp without 30 minutes in the bullpen before he's on the mound. He knows he'll have to be ready when the bullpen door opens, whenever that is.
There's just no real way around it.
"You know, that's what it is," Johnson said, admitting his left-hander will have to get acclimated. "The guys in the 'pen, they're invaluable as spot starters."
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