- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 21, 2009

The five pitchers making up the Washington Nationals’ starting rotation had combined for 91 starts heading into Saturday night’s game against Toronto.

One is an 11th-round pick who shot through the farm system. Two were selected in the top two rounds of the 2007 draft. One was a throw-in in a trade, and the other languished in the minor leagues for four seasons before making his major league debut this season.

Not one of them has constructed an appreciable big league resume or even gained anything resembling recognition to the casual baseball fan.

But in June, the Nationals’ rotation has been one of the best in baseball. They entered Saturday with the second-best ERA in the major leagues this month, at 3.02. And that was before Ross Detwiler turned in the finest start of his career in a 5-3 win against the visiting Blue Jays on Saturday.

Detwiler’s seven innings keyed the Nationals before their bullpen blew the lead and Willie Harris’ two-run homer in the 12th gave Washington its season-high fourth consecutive win. The left-hander finally resembled the player the Nationals took sixth overall in 2007, just three months after the bust label was on the horizon.

Detwiler was one of the first cuts out of big league camp after going 0-1 with an 8.44 ERA in four starts. That followed a trying year at Class A Potomac in which Detwiler floundered with mechanics and slipped off the radar of the Nationals’ top prospects.

Now he has become a resurgent member of a rotation that has soldiered on despite having three wins to its collective record in the last month.

“Its great to see everybody throwing well,” Detwiler said. “There is a competition between us, but everyone seems to go out and do well every time.”

The Nationals preach a straightforward philosophy to their young pitchers: Command your fastball and throw strike one, and you’ll get hitters out without needing too many tricks. All five Nationals starters heard the dictum often in the team’s minor league system, and they’re adhering to it in the majors.

“That’s what we’re trying to develop here from top to bottom,” manager Manny Acta said. “When a guy gets up here, he knows what’s expected of him at the major league level in every situation because he’s been through it in the minor leagues. That’s how you build winning franchises.”

On Saturday, Detwiler threw 65 of 99 pitches for strikes, a night after Jordan Zimmermann had 69 strikes in 106 pitches and threw first-pitch strikes to 23 of the 26 batters he faced.

For Detwiler, the practice worked. He struck out just three but gave up six hits and walked one. His one mistake came in the sixth inning, when his first-pitch fastball on the outer half of the plate hung a little too high against Vernon Wells, who swatted in into the Blue Jays’ bullpen to tie the score at 1-1.

But the Nationals hit Dunkirk, Md., native Brett Cecil for three doubles in the sixth - one of them giving Nick Johnson a franchise record-tying 10 straight plate appearances where he reached safely. The Nationals took a 3-1 lead they held until Detwiler gave up a single in the eighth and was relieved by Kip Wells.

That’s when Detwiler’s big night was robbed of what should have been its most dignifying consequence: the left-hander’s first major league win.

Wells gave up a single to Aaron Hill, then threw a pitch that resulted in a passed ball and moved pinch hitter Jose Bautista to third. Joel Hanrahan took over for Wells, giving up back-to-back singles to Scott Rolen and Adam Lind that tied the score at 3-3.

But the Nationals’ bullpen held firm. Alberto Gonzalez singled to lead off the 12th, and Harris, facing Scott Richmond, hammered a slider into the Nationals’ bullpen before getting mobbed at home plate by his teammates.

“I was trying to do a couple things. I was trying to bunt. I was trying to hit the ball on the ground with a hit and run,” Harris said. “Then when I got to 3-2, I was able to get a ball up in the zone and hit it out of the ballpark.”

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