PHILADELPHIA | Ross Detwiler approached the group of reporters waiting to talk to him after his first loss as a big league pitcher but asked for a moment before fielding questions so he could crack open a fortune cookie.
The rookie left-hander read from the parchment: “He who never makes mistakes never did anything worthy.”
Detwiler cracked a bit of a smile, perhaps realizing there was a lesson to be learned from the Washington Nationals’ 5-4 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday night. Having made several mistakes during four ragged innings at Citizens Bank Park, the 23-year-old could at least take something from the experience.
“Everybody has days like this,” he said. “But the great pitchers make adjustments. And today I didn’t make the adjustments that I needed to.”
The Nationals’ 16th loss in 19 games did feature some adjustments by the visiting team, which fell behind by four runs early but battled back to draw within a run of the defending World Series champs.
But this team has suffered far too many losses this season to take solace in an inspired-yet-incomplete rally, so the mood was predictably down in the clubhouse afterward.
“It’s all about winning,” left fielder Josh Willingham said. “It doesn’t really matter how. It doesn’t matter how you lose either - if you get beat 10-0 or if you get beat 9-8 where you came back in the ninth and scored six runs. It doesn’t really matter. It’s all about the wins and losses. So it’s frustrating.”
Detwiler made it through the first two starts of his career with relative ease, holding the Pittsburgh Pirates to two earned runs in five innings and the Baltimore Orioles to one run and one hit in six innings. But the young hurler learned Friday that little comes easy in the major leagues, especially when facing a potent lineup such as Philadelphia’s.
Detwiler’s problem wasn’t with command - he threw 46 of 68 pitches for strikes. Instead, he couldn’t locate his pitches down in the strike zone, and the Phillies made him pay. Twenty-three batters came to the plate while he was on the mound. Ten recorded hits.
Even the outs Detwiler coerced came on hard-hit balls, whether it was Ryan Howard’s lineout to second, Howard’s lineout to a diving Willingham or Raul Ibanez’s smash to first baseman Nick Johnson.
Still, the barrage of hits was better than the alternative as far as the Nationals were concerned.
“There’s not a great experience when you’re getting roughed up,” manager Manny Acta said. “But the fact that he threw strikes, that he wasn’t walking the whole ballpark and that he was still being aggressive, that’s fine with us.”
After his starter surrendered five runs in four innings, Acta decided to pull the plug and turn things over to his bullpen in hopes that the beleaguered unit could keep his team in the game. As luck would have it, the Nationals’ relief corps came through in rare fashion, holding the Phillies scoreless from the fifth through the eighth innings despite allowing at least one hit in each frame.
That did buy some time for Washington’s offense to come to life, which it did after five mostly fruitless innings against reliever-turned-starter J.A. Happ that featured only Willingham’s solo homer. When Happ put two men on in the sixth, Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel turned to his bullpen but didn’t get the results he wanted.
Josh Bard, who woke up Friday morning in Denver with his wife and their newborn daughter and arrived at Citizens Bank Park late in the afternoon, shook off his lack of sleep by driving a run-scoring double to right-center off Chad Durbin. Anderson Hernandez followed with a hit to right that wound up scoring two runs when Jayson Werth bobbled the ball.
But having cut the deficit to 5-4, the Nationals could not push across the tying run despite a couple of golden opportunities. They stranded a runner in scoring position in the sixth and eighth innings, with Justin Maxwell striking out each time.
The rookie center fielder is 0-for-16 since his recall from Class AAA Syracuse, and he may be running out of chances to turn things around.
“Right now we’re probably just going to have to try some other alternative out there,” Acta said. “He’s very tentative. He’s not even pulling the trigger and swinging the bat.”