- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 4, 2009

ATLANTA | Down to the final weekend of a miserable season, with players across the board banged up and limited in availability, the Washington Nationals have picked an odd time to start playing their best baseball of the year.

Not that anyone’s complaining about a surprising winning streak that was extended to six games Saturday evening when the Nationals outlasted the Atlanta Braves for a wild, 6-4 victory in 11 innings.

If only the Nationals got this kind of pitching, this kind of clutch hitting and this kind of mental toughness all season, perhaps this last week of finely executed baseball would have meant something instead of merely serving as an upbeat conclusion to a miserable year.

Consecutive win No. 6 featured another impressive start from rookie Ross Detwiler, another impressive homer and defensive play from rookie Ian Desmond, a clutch hit from ailing Cristian Guzman and another impressive, game-winning homer from Justin Maxwell.

Maxwell, who won the Nationals’ home finale earlier in the week with a walk-off grand slam, took Braves reliever Manny Acosta deep to right with two outs in the 11th on Saturday. This after rookie right-hander Zack Segovia (pressed into emergency closer duties with Mike MacDougal and Tyler Clippard ailing) blew a two-run lead in the 10th.

In the end, another unheralded Washington reliever, Logan Kensing, wound up earning the save. Kensing, owner of a 9.74 ERA and designated for assignment three times this season by two teams, held the Braves scoreless in the bottom of the 11th and sent his team into Sunday’s season finale flying high.

Perhaps the most significant development of the day, though, came much earlier when Detwiler closed out his year in fine form, shutting the Braves out over five innings.

Detwiler’s first season resulted in a 1-6 record and 5.00 ERA, but it really should be broken into two portions. During his first stint in the Nationals’ rotation from mid-May through mid-July, the young lefty was wildly inconsistent and at times seemed to be trying too hard to make a positive impression. He went jettisoned to Class AAA Syracuse during the All-Star break, his ERA at 6.40, his confidence perhaps shaken.

But after righting himself in the minors, Detwiler returned to the District after rosters expanded in September and finally pitched like a first-round draft pick with a bright future. Counting Saturday’s strong performance, he managed to post a 1.90 ERA in five late-season appearances, four of them starts.

The Nationals will go into the winter with those five performances fresh in their minds, not the earlier struggles.

Detwiler deserved far more than the one victory he recorded in 15 total major league outings this year, and he certainly deserved one Saturday. The only Atlanta batter to record a base hit against him was Nate McLouth, who led off the bottom of the first with a bunt single.

Otherwise, the Braves only reached base against Detwiler via walks (four of them). Sitting on only 62 pitches through five innings, he would normally have been fine to continue on. But with his combined season innings total at 152 1/3 and a left thumb issue cropping up in the fifth, the Nationals took the safe route and called it a season right there.

At the time, Detwiler was in line to earn the win. But Washington’s 2-0 lead — which had been built via Ryan Zimmerman’s RBI single and Desmond’s solo homer — dissipated before Detwiler could even wrap his left arm in ice. Relievers Saul Rivera and Ron Villone combined to allow a pair of sixth-inning runs on two singles and a walk, leaving the game tied and leaving Detwiler with a no-decision.

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