- The Washington Times - Friday, June 5, 2009

At this early stage of their careers, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler can’t even comprehend the idea of 300 wins. So much must happen in the next two decades for either rookie member of the Washington Nationals’ rotation to enter such a discussion.

If, however, that day comes and Zimmermann and Detwiler stand on the threshold of baseball immortality, perhaps they will look back on Thursday’s proceedings at Nationals Park and recall how they felt watching Randy Johnson do just that.

“I grew up watching him,” Detwiler said. “I mean, 300 wins. … He’s one of my favorite pitchers through my whole life.”

First things first: These two guys need to start learning how to win single games. Zimmermann has won twice in nine starts; Detwiler has yet to earn career win No. 1 despite four cracks at it.

Because of both developments, the Nationals lost both ends of Thursday’s doubleheader against the San Francisco Giants. Zimmermann pitched well in a 5-1 loss in the opener but took a backseat to Johnson and his 300th career win. Detwiler didn’t fare nearly as well in the 4-1 nightcap, laboring through 5 2/3 innings before the umpiring crew ended the game because of a steady rain.

The end result was a miserable and long day at the ballpark for an announced crowd of 16,787 and a Washington club that has lost 20 of 24 and has seen its once-potent offense fall flat. The Nationals have scored 21 runs in their past nine games.

That lack of punch has put added pressure on the starting rotation to come up big, and that young quintet hasn’t quite been up to the challenge.

Zimmermann tried his best in Thursday’s matinee, retiring the side in five of his six innings. Unfortunately, his lone hiccup in the second resulted in two runs and four hits, and that’s all the offense Johnson and the Giants needed.

“I just took it as another game, nothing too special,” Zimmermann said. “I knew there was a lot on the line. We just came up on the short end.”

The Nationals had to feel better about their chances in the nightcap, and Detwiler got things started on a high note with three scoreless innings. But the 22-year-old lefty hit a wall. He allowed a run in the fourth on a pair of singles and a stolen base. He allowed three more runs in the fifth on five hits. And he put himself into another jam in the sixth with two on and two outs before the rain became too heavy and crew chief Rob Drake called for the tarp.

After a cursory wait to see whether conditions improved, the game was called and Washington was dealt another difficult loss.

The Nationals (14-38) admittedly have been forced to rush their young starters to the majors because of injuries, inconsistencies and other calamities. So they knew they would have to suffer through more rough outings than gems from these pitchers.

Zimmermann has shown flashes of his potential, but through the first nine starts of his career he owns a 2-3 record and 5.71 ERA. Detwiler was sharp in his first two outings, but he has slipped and has yet to notch his first win. His 0-2 record and 5.23 ERA don’t inspire a world of confidence.

“A win, period, would be good,” Detwiler said. “If I don’t get the win, so what? As long as the team wins.”

If the Nationals or either young hurler have any doubts, all they need to do is look at the dubious start to Johnson’s career. The Big Unit went 7-13 with a 4.82 ERA in his first full season in the majors.

Zimmermann and Detwiler would happily take that rookie season if it results in even half of Johnson’s Hall of Fame career.

“We were sitting down with a couple of guys and trying to figure it out: You need to have 20 years of so many wins,” Zimmermann said. “It’s just unbelievable. He’s got 22 years in the big leagues, and he’s been pitching great every year.”

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