- The Washington Times - Friday, July 6, 2007

Ross Detwiler became this year’s highest-drafted player to agree to terms on a contract. Now, the 21-year-old left-hander will try to become the first player in his class to make it to the big leagues.

The Washington Nationals and Detwiler came to terms yesterday, agreeing to a $2.15 million signing bonus that could put the pitcher on a fast track to the majors.

The standout from Missouri State, who was taken sixth overall in last month’s draft, will be at RFK Stadium today to sign his contract and be introduced to the crowd before Washington’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers. He will begin his professional career this weekend with the Nationals’ Gulf Coast League rookie team in Viera, Fla.

If all goes according to plan, Detwiler won’t be in Florida long. The club plans to promote him to Class A Potomac after two or three starts, then to Class AA Harrisburg next month. That could mean a promotion to Washington come September.

“It’s possible,” general manager Jim Bowden said. “The good news is now he’s signed, so he’s got a much better chance of making it than the other players who haven’t signed.”

Detwiler, who grew up in St. Louis, settled for a slightly smaller signing bonus than originally expected. He was looking for $2.5 million but traded money upfront for the opportunity to make more money quicker in the major leagues.

“It was a long, difficult process,” Bowden said. “We’re really pleased that he signed. It’s very important for this franchise.”

Washington has now signed 15 of its top 17 draft picks, with only left-handers Josh Smoker (the 31st overall selection) and Jack McGeary (sixth round) still unaccounted for. McGeary, who has strongly suggested he will attend Stanford in the fall, is unlikely to agree. Smoker has committed to Clemson but has said he would prefer to sign.

Bowden, though, said negotiations with the Georgia high school star “have not gone well” and again mentioned the possibility the Nationals might choose to use their money instead to sign Latin American players.

“We’ve worked hard to sign Josh,” Bowden said. “We want to sign Josh. But the negotiations have not gone well. We hope the player changes his mind.”

Johnson seeing specialist

Nick Johnson, still experiencing continued soreness in his right hip near where he broke his leg last fall, will visit a specialist in New York today.

Club officials were careful not to call this development a setback, but clearly Johnson’s recovery has hit a snag. Though the first baseman has been able to hit in the batting cage, field grounders and run the bases, he continues to feel pain and soreness in the area where doctors originally inserted a titanium rod when he tries to extend himself.

“He hasn’t recovered yet, even though his leg has healed,” Bowden said. “We want to make sure we look at every piece of medical information possible. It may be that he just needs more time to heal, but I don’t want to leave anything untouched. This is all precautionary.”

The day after Johnson broke his right femur in a violent collision with teammate Austin Kearns, doctors were optimistic he would be ready for spring training. But Johnson, a notoriously slow healer, didn’t even start running until March and didn’t start swinging a bat until May.

Now, there seems to be genuine concern he won’t play at all this season, though club officials won’t put a timetable on his eventual return.

“Anything’s possible,” Bowden said. “I said before, I won’t be able to tell you when he’s coming back until he goes on [a minor league rehab assignment]. And we’re not at that point yet.”

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