The Washington Nationals now have a pitching rotation that should be the envy of baseball, along with a bullpen that should only provoke further jealousy. If Ross Detwiler can continue to improve, there won’t be a team in the major leagues with the pitching depth of the Nationals.
Having never pitched above 75 innings, Detwiler suddenly looked to be enjoying himself in the second half of the season last year, going 10-8 with a 3.40 ERA.
Against the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 4 of the NLDS, Detwiler allowed no earned runs across six innings, setting up the day for Jordan Zimmerman, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen.
He showed composure and considerable control in his pitching, using his changeup well at crucial points and getting the strikes. With talk of the Strasburg shutdown still ringing in everyone’s ears, it was exactly the sort of performance the team needed to take the series to a Game 5.
Nationals manager Davey Johnson showed faith in the former first-round pick and saw that faith rewarded. Even though the Nationals wouldn’t progress in the postseason, the decision to throw Detwiler into the back of the rotation in 2011 was suddenly justified.
The team honored his efforts with a $2.3375 million contract for 2013, avoiding arbitration in the process (via The Washington Post).
What is the key to another improvement from Detwiler?
It’s not automatic that he will make another jump this year, and the pitching staff is so strong that he wouldn’t make it past No. 4 in the rotation despite a big improvement. Of course, this is a wonderful problem to have, and the stage is set for Detwiler to have a breakout year.
In order to do this, he has to prove a couple of things. Firstly, he has to prove he can pitch deeper into ballgames, a la Chris Carpenter and Justin Verlander.
Secondly, he’ll need to vary his pitches as he did in that postseason start. His sinking fastball will continue to be his best weapon, but if he’s still pitching the second and third time through the lineup, teams will get a good look at it.
This will reduce his effectiveness and he'll get knocked around, which in turn will prevent him getting regular chances to pitch deep.
Detwiler needs to draw on his changeup and his curveball to take the next step in his development. The good news is that he seemed to find that elusive curveball towards the end of last year and looked like the player advertised in the ’07 draft.
If he can continue this evolution, he’ll find himself with an ERA around 3.00 and Johnson will have no choice but to push him ahead of Dan Haren in the rotation.
There is no doubt that the Nationals have a pitching staff overflowing with talent, and discussions like this are a luxury for a team that has been starved of such things for a long time.
There is an exciting mixture of hope and expectation within the Nationals fanbase right now, and Detwiler forms a large part of that.
The talk will center on Stephen Strasburg operating without an innings limit, but Detwiler has the potential to be the anchor at No. 4 that enables Washington to get to the World Series.