ATLANTA — It won’t be until Tuesday or Wednesday, but at some point this week, Ross Detwiler will take the walk from the Washington Nationals’ dugout to their bullpen. After nine starts, six exceptional and three mediocre, Detwiler’s current stay in the starting rotation is over.
Chien-Ming Wang will start Wednesday, sliding the right-handed sinkerballer into the power lefty’s spot and realigning the Nationals’ pitching staff more the way they anticipated in spring training.
When manager Davey Johnson delivered that news to Detwiler on Saturday, it was not received pleasantly. Detwiler, the team’s first-round pick in 2007, has been working toward becoming a mainstay in the rotation. With Wang straining a hamstring in spring training, he got his shot — the Nationals making sure of it when they optioned John Lannan to the minor leagues.
It was easy to understand, then, why the news wouldn’t go over well. But a day later, Detwiler had softened his stance.
“I’d rather be starting,” he said, only 10 of his 48 career appearances coming out of the bullpen. “But we’ve got a guy that’s year-in, year-out is just winning games. I wasn’t getting the job done at the time so, it’s still a chance to put on a big-league uniform every day.
“The way I look at it, I’m going from the best starting rotation in the big leagues to the best bullpen.”
Detwiler will fill a long relief role, his youth and health making him a better candidate to do so than Wang, who has even less relief experience and an injury history that makes bullpen work cumbersome. His performance the past three outings (13 earned runs in 14⅓ innings) was not the only factor, but it made the decision easier than it would have been had Detwiler been pitching the way he did in his first six outings (2.10 ERA in 34⅓ innings).
“We just want to attack the zone,” pitching coach Steve McCatty said. “He’s had nine starts. Six of them are really, really, really good. The other three he’s struggled.”
But even McCatty cautioned against looking at the move as a demotion. Detwiler, in most other circumstances, wouldn’t be ejected from the rotation after three rough starts. Before Wang was hurt, this was the way the Nationals had planned it to be. As Detwiler pointed out, “he’s just coming back and claiming his spot.”
“Chien-Ming was going to be starting,” McCatty said. “I guess if the season started over and nothing happened to Chien-Ming then he wouldn’t have gotten those starts. We’re back to square one. But Chien-Ming has got a lot of time in [and] he’s throwing the ball great. It’s part of the business. It happens.
“If Det wouldn’t have had a couple starts, the scenario could be different. But that didn’t happen. Det’s going to be here for a long time. He’s going to pitch, and he’s going to be very good, and when I’m gone and everybody’s gone, he’s still going to be here. It happens.”
Notes: Bench player Chad Tracy will have an MRI on his groin area Tuesday. The Nationals did not make a decision Sunday whether he would require time on the disabled list. Tracy had double sports hernia surgery this past offseason,, and the Nationals initially felt he might have broken up scar tissue as he rounded first base on the game-winning double Saturday. Tracy said Sunday he does not believe that to be the case, thinking this is a new injury. …
If Tracy, the most productive pinch hitter in the majors, requires a DL stint, the Nationals could call up outfielder Corey Brown from Triple-A Syracuse who has been out of the lineup for two straight days despite not being injured. Brown is on a tear, too, hitting .297 with 12 home runs, a .399 on-base percentage and a .584 slugging percentage. He had homered in five straight games before he was out of the lineup Saturday. …
Outfielder Michael Morse (torn right lat) is scheduled to begin a minor league rehab assignment Tuesday with Single-A Potomac. Johnson had said Morse would play with Potomac on Monday, but he will instead remain in Florida at extended spring training for one more day.