- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 27, 2009

BALTIMORE | The reason the Washington Nationals followed their most encouraging nine-game stretch of the year with their worst loss of the season was one of baseball’s most elementary lessons.

Leave the ball up, and you’ll get hit.

No one expects 23-year-old starter Ross Detwiler to command the intricacies of that seemingly simple axiom every time he pitches. At this time last year, he was at Class A Potomac, and he has shown that when he plunges the ball to the lower reaches of the strike zone, he’ll be successful.

He didn’t do that with any consistency in Friday’s 11-1 loss to the Baltimore Orioles, which is why manager Manny Acta could come away saying Detwiler’s five-inning, five-run performance had “encouraging” elements to it.

The other pitcher who continues to search for grasp of pitching’s rudiments, though, was in a much more important position at the beginning of the year. Joel Hanrahan has slipped far from it now, though, because he cannot find what has made him successful in the past and repeat it.

And so, on a night where an uplifting 5-4 stretch against the AL East was replaced mostly by one bad inning started by Detwiler and exacerbated by Hanrahan, it was easy to see why: One pitcher is still learning how to pitch in the big leagues, and another is trying to rediscover it.

The Nationals’ 50th loss was largely due to the Orioles’ eight-run sixth, the biggest inning Washington has allowed this season. It finished an inconsistent night for Detwiler and left the Nationals searching, yet again, for a place to resuscitate their former closer.

Hanrahan has given up eight runs in his past 2 1/3 innings despite Acta’s plan to put him in low-pressure situations and get his confidence back. Where he’ll go next seems unclear.

“Right now, there’s no way to hide him,” Acta said. ‘We’re just going to have to continue to pitch him in situations like this, when we’re trailing and stuff. But that being said, he’s still going to have to pitch.”

The Orioles’ sixth inning split open a game that appeared to not be heading into blowout territory.

Following a seven-inning, two-run performance against Toronto that was the best start of his career, Detwiler seemed for a few innings to be in position to craft a sequel, albeit with stuff that wasn’t nearly as good as what he had a week ago. He gave up a pair of hits in the first inning that led to the Orioles’ first run but didn’t give up anything else through the first three innings, inducing five groundouts in that span with his sinking fastball.

But Detwiler didn’t have the wherewithal to keep up that pace. His fastball wasn’t as sharp in the fourth inning, and Baltimore hit him for two runs, getting four hits and help from left fielder Josh Willingham, who bobbled Nolan Reimold’s double before relaying to the infield too late to catch Aubrey Huff.

And though Detwiler got a double play to end the fifth, he would be around only for the start of the next inning, when the Orioles split the game open.

“I felt good only giving up those two runs there [in the third],” Detwiler said. “I came out and put up a zero after that, and didn’t stay with that.”

The two singles Detwiler gave up at the beginning of the sixth were merely the gateway to the inning, a half-hour-plus romp through the Nationals’ lineup featuring 13 Baltimore batters, seven hits, two walks and a Cristian Guzman error that turned a would-be double play into an Orioles run and a chance for Baltimore to score another.

The Orioles contentedly slapped singles to right, having their way with hanging sliders or sinkers that didn’t sink. Against Hanrahan, they scored four runs on three hits. The right-hander only retired one batter.

“I left a slider up to [Melvin] Mora [for a double] that got things started, and that pitch to [Adam Jones for a run-scoring single] kind of finished it for me,” Hanrahan said.

Orioles starter Brad Bergesen didn’t have anything resembling the same trouble with Washington’s lineup, which went practically dormant after three second-inning singles to tie the score at 1-1. The Nationals managed one more hit off Bergesen, and Hanrahan and Villone finished what Detwiler started.

“It’s really frustrating,” Hanrahan said. “I know I’m better than this. You guys know I’m better than this. I’m just going to keep fighting and keep going after it.”

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