Saturday, July 7, 2007

Washington Nationals’ first-round draft choice Ross Detwiler sauntered out to the mound at RFK Stadium last night with his $2.15 million left arm and bounced the ceremonial first pitch in the dirt to catcher Brian Schneider.

For comparison purposes, both Dr. Phil and President Bush had much better stuff.

But Detwiler still had better stuff than Nationals starter Mike Bacsik, who gave up two home runs and four runs to the Milwaukee Brewers — probably before Detwiler found his seat.

If he was watching, though, he probably thought two things:

c “I don’t feel so bad about bouncing that ball now.”

c “Heck, I can do that.”

We may find out before the end of the season if the tall left-hander can indeed face major league pitching. He is a highly touted prospect out of Missouri State, and it is not as if he has a logjam of talent ahead of him in the organization.

“I’m confident I can compete in the big leagues, but I am not sure how quickly,” Detwiler said while watching batting practice on the field. “This is my first experience with pro ball, so I have to feel it out and see how I do and we’ll go from there.”

He will be heading for Viera, Fla., today to join the Nationals rookie team in the Gulf Coast League but, according to team officials, he is expected to be promoted to Class A Potomac in the Carolina League in the near future. General Manager Jim Bowden has said he would not rule out a September call-up for Detwiler.

If that happens, Detwiler will get to see some friends he made quickly yesterday. The players and the fans embraced the 21-year-old from Wentzville, Mo. (Chuck Berry’s hometown — Detwiler said he lived a few miles from Chuck but never saw him around town), and Detwiler in turn was having a good time.

“All the players were great to me,” Detwiler said. “They congratulated me and said they can’t wait to see me up here. It’s really been a great experience for me.”

That experience included signing autographs for Nationals fans and answering questions.

After all, he represents the future, and the Washington Nationals are selling the future, particularly as they drop further and further into oblivion this season. They might want to consider introducing the other 14 picks (out of the first 17) who have signed so far — one home game at a time.

The fans seemed to like it.

“How does it feel to be wearing a Nationals jersey?” asked one fan as they waited for an autograph on a Nationals cap.

“It feels good,” Detwiler said. “I put one on in Florida after the draft, and it felt pretty good then, too.”

“What do you think about being a National?” another fan asked.

“It’s pretty awesome,” he said. “Overall, it has worked out well for me. If feels pretty surreal right now.”

That will change tomorrow when he gets a look at Viera. That will be very, very real. If he’s there for long, though, it will be considered a disappointment for a lot of people, particularly the one signing the $2.15 million signing bonus check.

“We are very excited to have him here,” team owner Mark Lerner said. “Hopefully he will be here sooner than later. I think he is going to be a great asset to the organization.”

And this is an organization that needs assets. Dmitri Young is an asset. So is Ronnie Belliard. And soon they will yield more assets when they are likely traded for more young pitching prospects. The franchise is trying to stockpile young pitching talent like Emiliano Fruto and Collin Balester, both of whom are on the rosters for tomorrow’s All-Star Futures Game in San Francisco.

“We realize that it starts with pitching,” said Nationals scouting director Dana Brown, who signed Chad Cordero when he was a scout.

Cordero was one of the examples the Nationals used during yesterday’s press conference to illustrate the success of other players who made the jump quickly from college to pro ball.

“We went after Ross,” Brown said. “It started last summer and it continued this spring when we got into the draft. Nothing like getting a left-handed starting pitcher at the top of the rotation that can throw 90-95 with a plus-curveball and a plus-changeup.”

He may have to refine that release point of his, though, before he shows up again to pitch at RFK Stadium.

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