Ross Detwiler sat in the clubhouse, the only company provided by ice packs wrapped around his left arm. The pitcher stared at nothing in particular, digesting the best start of his young career with the Washington Nationals ending in defeat.
Sometimes in baseball, as in life, your best isn’t good enough.
“It sounds cliché,” Detwiler said, “but you want to go out there and keep your team in the game.”
The 25-year-old Detwiler did that in his fourth start of the season. But he couldn’t match Cincinnati Reds right-hander Johnny Cueto’s string of zeros on Wednesday night as the Reds edged the Nationals, 2-1.
All Detwiler’s six innings at Nationals Park earned was a loss. But they provided a spark of hope for the No. 6 overall selection in the 2007 draft.
“Tonight was a great step in the right direction,” shortstop Ian Desmond said. “I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what he can do in the future.”
Detwiler struck out a career-high seven batters and tied another career mark with 103 pitches. Yes, nine men (seven hits, two walks) reached base against him. But he wriggled out of each spot of trouble and never appeared rattled on the mound.
Of great help to Detwiler was his sinking fastball. Normally the pitch averages 92.2 miles per hour. On Wednesday, he routinely touched 95 mph. He focused on keeping the pitch down and getting ahead in the count.
But Detwiler didn’t want to lean too heavily on the sinker. He felt too many in his previous start at Chicago led to the Cubs waiting for the pitch and smacking it the other way.
Detwiler mixed in more curveballs against the Reds — to mixed results. In the early innings that curveball was absent more than manager Davey Johnson would like. That led to Detwiler’s biggest mistake: challenging slugger Joey Votto with a 3-1 fastball in the first inning. Votto deposited the pitch deep over the fence in left-center field.
When the left-hander did throw curveballs early, Johnson noticed the pitcher slowed his motion on a couple and telegraphed the pitches.
“Those are young mistakes,” Johnson said.
When Detwiler threw the pitch for strikes, it proved a devastating compliment to his sinking fastball.
But Detwiler’s growth on the mound wasn’t matched by improvement from the Nationals’ offense. Twice the team had runners on third base with one out. Neither scored.
The final — and most painful — lost opportunity came in the bottom of the ninth inning. After a long solo home run from Ryan Zimmerman, the Nationals loaded the bases with one out.
Up came Wilson Ramos against closer Francisco Cordero. The 24-year-old swung at the first pitch he saw — a slider down and away — and grounded into a game-ending double play.
“It’s a mindset,” Johnson said of the pitch-chasing. “It’s something we’ve needed to improve on since I’ve been here.”
So Detwiler sat alone in the clubhouse, his six innings condensed to one letter on the box score: L.