- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 9, 2009

DENVER | Time and again during his 10 weeks in the major leagues, just as Ross Detwiler starts to solidify himself as a legitimate member of the Washington Nationals’ rotation and get people wondering whether a trip back to Class AAA Syracuse wouldn’t be necessary for more refinements, the words “release point” start creeping into his vocabulary.

When a pitcher is throwing well, the point in his delivery at which he’s releasing his pitches never comes up, because it’s not an issue. When that phrase becomes a regular part of a starter’s lexicon, struggles are a constant companion.

The release point on Detwiler’s fastball was only a secondary issue in a 10-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday. The control of his off-speed pitches was a big one, and it forced Detwiler to throw 77 fastballs in 89 pitches. The all-too-predictable repertoire was why he gave up six runs in four-plus innings, the most he has surrendered in the major leagues.

Detwiler’s first extended major league stint has featured a handful of moments in which the left-hander has looked like the starter the Nationals drafted with the sixth overall pick in 2007 but many more in which Detwiler has gone searching for a consistent, repeatable delivery that could make his two-seam fastball good enough to win in the big leagues.

That search continued in vain Wednesday in a third straight harrowing start since Detwiler’s best outing as a big leaguer, and it bears asking whether the 23-year-old will get his next chance to continue it in Washington or Syracuse.

“He had no command of any of his pitches,” manager Manny Acta said. “I don’t know if he was intimidated by the altitude. He didn’t throw enough breaking balls. That’s a big pitch for him, his curveball. Perhaps he didn’t feel like he could throw it for strikes, but you still need to throw it and see if you can get a feel for it.”

In his last three starts after an impressive seven-inning, one-run performance against the Blue Jays on June 20, Detwiler has a 11.67 ERA without going more than five innings.

Detwiler is not scheduled to pitch again before the All-Star break, but with both Collin Balester and Garrett Mock impressing at Syracuse and Detwiler struggling with his mechanics, it could prompt the Nationals to make a switch in the rotation before the second half.

“You make mistakes, and they hit them harder [in the majors],” Detwiler said. “I think that’s the big difference. They fight off good pitches. You make a mistake, they’re going to make you pay for it.”

The problems started for Detwiler in the second inning, when he walked Yorvit Torrealba and gave up a single to Carlos Gonzalez. Both of those mistakes ended up being harmless, but they were the last ones that wouldn’t come back to hurt Detwiler.

His leadoff walk to Dexter Fowler in the third set up a run when Adam Dunn couldn’t handle Detwiler’s pickoff throw to first. The error moved Fowler to second, and Todd Helton drove him in with a double.

A pair of doubles from Gonzalez and Fowler, both on appetizingly high fastballs, gave the Rockies another run in the fourth, and Detwiler gave up two singles, a walk and a backbreaking triple to Ryan Spilborghs in the fifth before coming out of the game, forlornly watching the middle innings with his head in his hands.

“I was getting ahead of some people and just not finishing them off,” Detwiler said. “I left some pitches up, and they got it.”

Whether it was Nyjer Morgan making the first out of the game by getting thrown out at third on a hit-and-run or the defense committing three errors, two by Dunn, the Nationals did little to help Detwiler.

They scored three off tiring Rockies starter Jorge De La Rosa in the seventh, but the Nationals already were trailing 8-0 by that point.

Still, the lasting effect on the game came from Detwiler. And it could have an effect on his immediate future.

“That’s not my decision here,” Acta said. “I get these guys, I get them ready to play and I play them. We all knew this kid was not going to cruise here. He was pitching in A ball last year, so we have to take that into consideration.”

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