- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 17, 2008

— WOODBRIDGE, Va. | To Potomac Nationals manager Randy Knorr, the most significant pitch Ross Detwiler has thrown all year was one he didn’t expect anyone to see.

The left-hander had given up six runs in four innings the night before at Lynchburg - that start coming on the heels of an outing in which he failed to make it through the first inning - and he needed a release.

So in the otherwise tranquil setting that comprises the run-up to a baseball game, Detwiler decided to do something with all that frustration. He picked up a ball, checked around to see whether anyone was watching and flung it over the outfield fence.

“It fired me up, finally,” Knorr said. “You keep waiting for signs. You watch the players, and you wait for signs - does he care, does this really matter to him? And then they show you something, and you go, ‘Wow, I think he’s ready.’”

Detwiler said the throw was nothing more than a simple act of anger management. But it showed the competitive streak the Washington Nationals believe their 2007 first-round pick has - the one that’s buried beneath his dyed blond hair and casual demeanor - and gave Knorr a sign that he’s not far away from moving on to something bigger.

To be fair, Detwiler’s first full season of minor league ball hasn’t always been pretty. He’s 5-3 with a 5.73 ERA for the Class A Nationals, and he has been pulled from several starts after reaching a maximum pitch count in the early innings.

And while Knorr and Potomac pitching coach Randy Tomlin believe Detwiler has plenty of talent, he’s a few refinements away from racing up Washington’s organizational ladder.

“He’s very close,” Tomlin said. “Anytime, he’s just ready to take off. It’s whenever they believe he’s ready to go. But I believe he’s very close. He’s getting more and more consistent with his stuff.”

Much of Tomlin’s work with Detwiler has been on his change-up - a pitch Detwiler has been able to throw for strikes in the past but not consistently enough to get more advanced hitters to lay off his fastball. And in the past, he has never had to worry about it, because college hitters couldn’t catch up to his mid-90s fastball and his curveball was a good enough second pitch to help him hold hitters to a .198 batting average in his last season at Missouri State.

But more and more, the change-up is making its way into Detwiler’s repertoire. Tomlin said Detwiler’s arm action on his change-up mirrors that of his fastball, providing a crucial element in developing the pitch into a deceptive weapon.

He’s increasingly willing to throw it regardless of the count, and in the Nationals’ organization, in which change-ups are seen as one of the most important pieces of a pitcher’s development next to fastball command, the pitch is the kind of currency that could get Detwiler to Class AA Harrisburg sooner rather than later.

“I hadn’t really thrown one in the past too much,” Detwiler said. “I can throw it maybe at a 2-1 or a 2-0 [count]. I’ve always had the good arm action with the change-up and just hadn’t been able to locate it. I’m starting to get a good feel for it now and know what I’m doing with it.”

As for the rest of it, the act of learning how to pitch on more than smoke and intimidation, Detwiler is figuring it out as he goes along.

And if the occasional baseball is lost over the fence in the process, well, that’s just part of growing up.

“It’s a learning experience, and I’d much rather have it happen here than higher up,” Detwiler said. “I think there were two starts this year where I hit a pitch count, and I don’t really feel like those were terrible starts. A few things didn’t go my way, and you get taken out. Everything’s a learning experience here.”

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