- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The efficiency with which the Washington Nationals’ bullpen can eviscerate any shred of hope on a given night is so pure, so unflinching, that it’s worth considering it’s the thing this team does best.

An offense that has become one of the best in the National League has been unable to pile up enough runs to keep up with the escalating tally for the opposing team. Even games that should be tinged with promise, like Monday night’s, wind up ending the same way.

In his first major league start, 2007 first-round pick Ross Detwiler showed the progress that has the team hoping he’s ready to turn a corner toward permanent big league status by the end of the year. A five-run explosion in the fifth inning put the Nationals up by two runs and gave manager Manny Acta a perfect occasion to take Detwiler out, the chance of earning his first big league win in sight.

But when the Nationals get a lead these days, it’s like they’re stretching a rubber band as far as it can go before it snaps back. On Monday night, it took all of 20 minutes.

Within four batters of a Washington reliever throwing his first pitch of the night, the lead was gone for good. The Nationals trailed by three at the end of the sixth and six by the top of the ninth.

The final result, a 12-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates before 14,549, was only significant in the similarity it bore to so many other Nationals games so far this young season.

It was the 10th time the Nationals lost when they scored six or more runs; they had only nine such losses all of last year. In their last five games, the Nationals have scored a total of 29 runs — and lost them all.

Washington has given up 10 runs or more seven times, including four in its last nine games.

For a pitcher who spent most of last year trying to remake his delivery in the minor leagues, Detwiler showed few of the work-in-progress traits that have sent his results spiking up and down like a stock index. He threw a fastball that topped out around 94 mph, had an effective curveball and changeup, and showed he wasn’t afraid to pitch inside.

He didn’t allow a ball out of the infield in the first two innings, and though he got in trouble in the third, allowing a single, hitting a batter and giving up a three-run homer to Craig Monroe, Detwiler floated above any other issues. He was in line for the win when the Nationals scored five runs in the bottom of the fifth to take a two-run lead over the Pirates, a rally punctuated by back-to-back homers from Nick Johnson and Ryan Zimmerman.

Detwiler was quickly indoctrinated in the sobering reality of being a Washington starter, where would-be wins are erased with stunning regularity once they become the property of the Nationals’ bullpen.

This one only took a half-inning to disappear. Garrett Mock entered the game, walked Adam LaRoche to start the sixth and hit Robinson Diaz with a pitch, after he’d bounced a pitch past Josh Bard that moved LaRoche to second.

Mock gave up a two-run double to Jack Wilson two batters later, and his night was done.

His final line was a grab bag of pitching misadventures: 1/3 of an inning, a hit, three runs, a walk, a wild pitch and a hit batter.

Next to try his hand was Jesus Colome, who allowed hits to three of the first four batters he faced. By the time he left the game, the Pirates had matched the Nationals’ five-run inning, and led 8-5 in the top of the sixth.

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