Ross Detwiler just stood on the back of the mound and stared. His mouth slightly agape, his jaw askew, he seethed. For almost the entirety of Nick Markakis' home run trot, Detwiler glared at the right center field seats.
The fastball he threw wasn't supposed to end up right down the middle, if low. It wasn't supposed to connect with Markakis' bat so well that it was already making its way up multiple rows of seats at Nationals Park just over two seconds after it left his bat.
His look was one of disgust at the job he'd been doing all night. And he was still wearing it hours later, standing at his locker after the Washington Nationals' 6-5 loss to the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday knowing his performance had cost them the game.
"Give up six in five innings?" Detwiler said. "That's awful. I put the team in a hole early and they did a great job trying to dig out. It was just too much. ... It was just terrible."
On the same day the Nationals gave him a public vote of confidence by announcing that, when ready to come off the disabled list, right-hander Chien-Ming Wang would go to the bullpen, he became the first Nationals starter to allow six or more runs in a start since Sept. 10, 2011. On a night when his offense scored five runs for just the 12th time in 40 games, Detwiler's mistakes were simply too many to overcome.
Detwiler struggled to find command of his breaking and offspeed pitches early in the game. He didn't throw a curveball at all until the fourth inning and didn't throw one for a strike until later in the frame. Of the 79 pitches he threw, only 16 of them were changeups or curveballs — and only eight of those were for strikes.
It took most of the guesswork out for an Orioles offense that has hit more home runs than any team in the American League.
"It gives them one pitch to sit on," Detwiler said of how much his lack of command for his other pitches hurt him on a night when he also felt his fastball command was missing. "That's what they were doing. It's pretty easy for a big league hitter to time pitching, whether it's 88 [mph], whether it's 99. It doesn't matter.
"If you're just throwing fastballs, they're going to hit it."
Adam Jones and Markakis did just, Jones powering a 1-0 fastball into the seats above the visitors' bullpen in left field in the third and Markakis adding his in the fifth. Added to Robert Andino's two-run single in the second, hit off the second changeup Detwiler threw all night, even the Nationals' work from the fifth inning on to chip away at the lead wouldn't be enough.
"Our pitching has been great all year and will continue to be great all year," said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who was 3-for-5 and smacked his second home run of the season with two outs in the ninth to bring the Nationals within a run. Adam LaRoche, the team's best hitter to this point who is having a dreadful series (0-for-9 with a walk and four strikeouts), struck out swinging to end the comeback.
"[Ross] was just getting behind in the count," Zimmerman added. "And his breaking ball wasn't really getting over for a strike, either. When you get behind, especially against a team like that that has a bunch of great hitters, they can sit fastball. It's tough to pitch like that."
Wang, pitching in Toledo, Ohio, for Triple-A Syracuse, didn't do much to make Detwiler's errors more glaring. The right-handed sinkerballer lasted 5 ⅔ innings against the Detroit Tigers' affiliate, allowing four earned runs off seven hits and three walks.
But it was the second straight start where Detwiler has come away lamenting his issues and regretting his performance. Asked if he felt there were similarities to his previous outing, a game against the Padres in which he went five and allowed four runs before getting pulled in an eventual win, he was blunt. "Just about the same," he said. "Equally as bad."
Wang will be allowed to remain on rehab assignment until May 27, and the Nationals, at this point, are unlikely to recant their decision to leave Detwiler, a 26-year-old power lefty who was one of the best pitchers in the league before his past two outings, in the rotation. But that fact didn't take away the frustration for Detwiler, who has already spent far too much of his career without the results befitting the kind of pitcher he and the Nationals know he can be.
"I know I can do it," Detwiler said. "I'm here for a reason in this role. You just kind of have to take it for what it is and go after the next one. Tonight, I'm going to let it sink in a little bit.
"I feel terrible about it because our team was out there. The hitters were ready to hit. They put up five runs on that pitching staff. We need to win when we do that."
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