- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 19, 2009

This is what the Washington Nationals have been selling since the Lerner family and Stan Kasten bought the team and took over the operation in the middle of 2006 - the hope of a better day, the dreams of the future, the potential of a baseball player.


It is the currency of survival for front office executives - young players who are signed every year through the amateur draft and then touted as the hope of the future. They are all future 20-game winners or 50 home run guys when a team drafts these young men out of high schools and colleges.

Faith is hanging on by a thread in NatsTown these days after a 102-loss season in the new ballpark last year and 26 losses - many of them embarrassing ones - so far in this campaign. If people are still believing, they are believing at home, based on the empty seats at Nationals Park.

For those true believers who came to the ballpark Monday night - and who weren’t Pittsburgh Pirates fans - they were rewarded for their faith. They got a look at the future in the shape of Ross Detwiler, and it looks promising.

Detwiler looked to be every bit the No. 1 pick the Nationals promised to their fans when they selected him in the first round of the 2007 amateur draft and offered a glimmer of hope, dreams and potential all realized on a cool night in May - even surrounded by the futility that has become the identity of this year’s Nationals team.

Detwiler’s teammates did all they could to initiate the first-time starter to the Washington Misfits by committing three errors while he was on the mound, including two in the first inning on ground balls by shortstop Cristian Guzman.

But Detwiler has a different identity. He is part of the Nationals’ future.

That team is the Washington Aces.

Jordan Zimmermann. Shairon Martis. John Lannan.

Stephen Strasburg?

Ross Detwiler.

The kid from Wentzville, Mo., stayed composed in that first inning after the errors by Guzman put runners at first and second with two outs. Detwiler got Adam LaRoche to hit a foul pop to Ryan Zimmerman at third to close out the inning. And when Craig Monroe hit a three-run home run in the third inning following another error, this one by first baseman Nick Johnson on a pickoff attempt, Detwiler remained in control and closed out the inning without any more damage.

When he left after five innings, Detwiler had allowed two earned runs, struck out six, walked none and threw 61 strikes out of 84 pitches, mixing up his pitches and changing speeds. And in the fifth, the Nationals at least were kind enough to let the kid off the hook from the loss, scoring five runs on home runs by Zimmerman and Johnson to take a 5-3 lead.

This isn’t the future, though. This is here and now, and in the here and now the bullpen will blow the lead, as it did after Detwiler was gone, with five Pittsburgh runs in the sixth inning off Garrett Mock and Jesus Colome. It was yet another test of faith for fans who have suffered enough.

The payoff will have to wait.

Detwiler struggled through much of his first full season in the minor leagues last year with the Class A Potomac Nationals and hardly seemed on the fast track to the big leagues that then-general manager Jim Bowden proclaimed the day they drafted him.

It wasn’t until it finally clicked with Detwiler that someone was now paying him to play baseball, and with that money came the responsibility to prepare like a professional every day. He wasn’t at Missouri State anymore.

“I think Ross had to figure out in his first full year of minor league baseball that being a professional ballplayer is an every day thing,” said Nationals bullpen coach Randy Knorr, who was Detwiler’s manager at Potomac last season. “Once he got past that, I think his focus was on pitching again, and then he really came around in the second half and pitched well.”

Detwiler finished with an 8-8 record and a 4.86 ERA last year with Potomac but had a 3.60 ERA in his final 10 starts and was their ace in the Carolina League playoffs.

He started this season with Class AA Harrisburg and was outstanding, even if winless in six starts, with a 2.96 ERA. In his last two starts, Detwiler struck out 16 and walked just one. He had shown enough that the Nationals called him up for Monday’s start with Scott Olsen on the disabled list with shoulder tendinitis.

“This is the plan we have had for him since spring training,” acting general manager Mike Rizzo said. “We were going to give him about 10 starts in Double A, then move him to Triple A. I think he had seven starts in Double A, and he is up here for his eighth start. I think when we do return him to the minor leagues, he probably does go to Triple A.

“We still want to develop this guy into a top-notch rotation starter for us,” Rizzo said. “So we are going to do what is best for his long-term career rather than a quick fix for us.”

There is no quick fix for the Washington Misfits. But the Washington Aces are one young pitcher closer.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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