It was a rare moment of angst for Ross Detwiler.
The Washington Nationals’ laid-back first-round pick had just been promoted from the rookie league club to Class A Potomac, and he momentarily panicked when he glanced at the clock in his hotel room in Frederick, Md., where his new team, the Nationals, were in the midst of a series with the Keys.
“I actually woke up this morning at 7 o’clock and thought I was late at first,” said Detwiler, who was accustomed to 6:30 a.m. wake-up calls in the rookie league. “Then I realized where I was and went back to sleep. It’s pretty nice to be able to sleep in.”
Detwiler can afford to get in a few more winks now that he is pitching under the lights for the Nationals, working his way up through the minors in what is expected to be a quick ascent to the major leagues.
The sixth pick in June’s draft signed in early July for a $2.15 million bonus and began his professional career in obscurity in the Gulf Coast League in Florida, where games start at noon and play out in front of paltry crowds. Now he is getting a bit more attention, competition and scrutiny.
“It’s a lot better pitching in front of people than nobody,” Detwiler said Friday after making his first start for Potomac.
The crowds could get much bigger quickly: Washington Nationals officials have suggested the 21-year-old left-hander from St. Louis might pitch at RFK Stadium this season. Detwiler, who left Missouri State after his junior season, will make a few more starts for Potomac and, if he fares well, get promoted to Class AA Harrisburg before a call-up to the bigs.
“He was a big-time collegiate pitcher who is going to be a big-time professional pitcher and a big-time major league pitcher,” Nationals assistant general manager Mike Rizzo said.
Detwiler struggled in his first performance with Potomac but showed his potential in four rookie league starts during which he compiled a 2.25 ERA in 12 innings.
In his lone Carolina League start, Detwiler took his first pro loss, allowing two runs to Winston-Salem on eight hits in 42/3 innings. He struck out two, allowed no walks and worked out of several jams with a confounding curveball and a fastball in the low 90s.
“I got hurt when I left the ball up,” said Detwiler, who will make his second start tomorrow against Wilmington at Pfitzner Stadium in Woodbridge, Va. “When I had it down, I was effective. Next start out I really have to focus on keeping the ball down.”
Potomac manager Randy Knorr liked what he saw — particularly his composure — even if Detwiler threw too many high, hittable pitches.
“He’s got good stuff,” said Knorr, who thinks Detwiler naturally will settle down with a few more outings. “It’s just pitching. He just has to pitch and learn what he can and can’t do, what he can and can’t do in certain situations. I think he will learn that. He seems to be a pretty bright kid.”
Catcher Devin Ivany, a four-year minor league veteran who earlier this season caught current Washington Nationals starter John Lannan at Potomac, also felt it was a positive start.
“He had good movement, a pretty good curveball all in all,” Ivany said. “He’s got some good life to his ball. I think once he settles down and gets comfortable he will be really good.”
Detwiler plans to go back to Missouri State in the fall and continue working toward his degree — he said he’s about 30 credits shy — unless he is with the big league Nationals or is sent to the Fall Instructional League.
Detwiler also is getting a small, first taste of stardom off the field. A handful of reporters followed him to Frederick on Thursday for his scheduled first start, but the game was rained out. The next night, a slightly bigger group of reporters and a television crew greeted him following his actual debut.
“I think it is good for him to get used to [pressure] now,” Ivany said. “It will help in the long run.”
Saturday brought more star treatment: Detwiler promoted the team by signing autographs and posing for pictures at a nearby burger joint.
Detwiler seems unaware of his newfound appeal. He appears nonplussed by the chatter about going to the majors this season — like Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who went from a college campus to the majors in his first professional season.
“It sounds great, but you can’t really look ahead too far,” he said. “The only way I am going to get there is if I get my work done here. I just have to focus on my next start.”