- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 19, 2013

VIERA, Fla. — From the outset, the Washington Nationals have maintained strong support of the World Baseball Classic. Even four months ago, general manager Mike Rizzo was emphatic that if his players could help Team USA field the strongest team, he’d be more than willing to let them go.

But with 40 percent of their starting rotation now committed to Team USA, the Nationals’ attention to the tournament has become much more personal.

Ross Detwiler joined Gio Gonzalez on Team USA’s roster Tuesday, forcing the Nationals go through the process of tweaking their schedules and getting over the added layer of worry that comes with shipping their pitchers out during a time that is so integral to their preparation for the season ahead.

“Obviously, they’re your boys. You like to keep them close,” manager Davey Johnson said, adding he was “surprised they didn’t take more.”

But players declining invitations or withdrawing from the tournament altogether has become a hot-button issue, particularly for Team USA. And for pitchers, whose progress in the spring is much more incremental than position players, it’s always been a dicey proposition. Team USA’s starting rotation, while solid, is missing stars like Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw and David Price.

“Baseball players have an internal clock,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter told The Baltimore Sun last week, implying that the WBC may disrupt it.

Not to mention the threat of injury and the concern that pitching in games of such magnitude could rush a player to perform in ways their body isn’t ready to.

“We present the facts, tell them what’s important, and away they go,” Showalter said.

When Detwiler woke up Tuesday morning to a text from Tony Clark, a Major League Baseball Players Association official, asking if he wanted to play for his country, he was ecstatic.

“The little kid in me wanted to say ‘yes,’ without thinking it through,” Detwiler said. “But I knew I had to go straight to [Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty] and Davey and Rizzo. I did that.

“We all thought it through and it was still a ‘yes,’ so I’m pretty happy about that.”

Detwiler will leave Nationals camp March 4 to journey to Arizona for the opening round, and Gonzalez will join Team USA on March 12 if it advances to the second round in Miami. Outfielder Roger Bernadina, who is playing for the Netherlands, leaves camp Sunday.

The Nationals told Detwiler they wanted him to work this spring on incorporating more of his off-speed pitches and his change-up early, instead of relying so heavily on his fastball. They reiterated Tuesday that where he’s doing that work, whether in the Grapefruit League or the WBC, doesn’t matter. They’re still going to be making sure it gets done.

“The only issue that I have really with pitchers pitching in those kind of tournaments is the intensity of how you’re going to throw,” Rizzo said. “It’s hard to tell these supreme athletes you’re only supposed to be throwing 75-80 percent of your regular routine when they’ve got an opposing batter ahead and wearing ‘USA’ on the front of your shirt.

“We’re going to make sure they’re prepared, both mentally and physically, for the workload and the intensity.”

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