Detwiler's 'awful' start plagues Nats

Detwiler's 'awful' start plagues Nats
May 20, 2012, 4:26 am
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Ross Detwiler could have tried to over-analyze his outing Saturday night, tried to figure out whether it was a mechanical glitch or poor pitch selection or just plain old poor execution that caused him to put the Nationals in big hole and ultimately set the stage for a 6-5 loss to the Orioles.

In the end, though, the process was less significant to the left-hander than the end result.

"I mean, give up six in five innings?" Detwiler said. "That's awful."

"Awful" might be a bit too strong of a description. But for a Nationals rotation that hadn't put forth an outing like this in quite some time, it certainly didn't measure up to the usual standard.

In fact, no Nationals starter had surrendered six earned runs since Livan Hernandez did it against the Mets on Sept. 4, 2011, a span of 63 games. And this one perhaps stung a little more because Detwiler's teammates managed to rally from the 6-0 deficit he created and nearly came all the way back before a raucous crowd of 42,331 (second-largest in ballpark history).

"I feel terrible about it," Detwiler said. "Because our team was out there, the hitters were ready to hit. They put up five runs on that pitching staff. ... We need to win when we do that."

The Nationals still nearly did win. Despite putting only two men on base through their first four innings against Orioles starter Jason Hammel, manager Davey Johnson's reconfigured lineup finally began producing after it trailed by six.

With RBI from Steve Lombardozzi (filling in for a benched Danny Espinosa), Rick Ankiel, Carlos Maldonado and Roger Bernadina, the Nationals trimmed the lead to 6-4 in the sixth. They nearly added to it in the eighth, stranding a man on third when both Bernadina and Espinosa hit the ball hard ... but right at Baltimore outfielders. Then they did draw within one in the ninth when Ryan Zimmerman belted a Jim Johnson pitch to left for his first homer since April 19.

"It can't always happen in a game where you jump out to a lead and cruise home," said Zimmerman, who went 3-for-5 to raise his average to .250. "This team handles adversity well, and we battle to the last out. We did that again tonight, and that's all you can ask for."

Well, you could've asked for the game-tying run, though that would've required a clutch hit from Adam LaRoche, who has been the Nationals' best run-producer all season but has fallen into a funk since the Orioles showed up in the District.

After striking out on a 3-2 sinker from Johnson to end the game, LaRoche finds himself 0-for-9 with four strikeouts (and a walk) in this series.

"I'm actually seeing it alright; I'm just going outside the zone," the first baseman said. "I had a couple chances to take some walks ... and I haven't done it. I've been chasing it. I need to get back in and pull the ball back in a little closer and be a little more selective."

Late rally or not, this game was decided in the first five innings, when Hammel (5-1) cruised and Detwiler (3-3) labored. Detwiler found himself in trouble nearly from the moment he stepped to the mound, and in doing so continued a disturbing trend.

Owner of a 2.10 ERA only six days ago, he's now allowed 10 earned runs and 16 hits over his last 10 innings. As a result, that ERA now stands at 3.65.

"I mean, I know I can do it," he said. "I know I'm here for a reason in this role. It's like, you just kind of have to take it for what it is and go after the next one."

Is there a chance Detwiler won't get many more starts to right his ship? Perhaps.

Chien-Ming Wang started for Class AAA Syracuse on Saturday, his fifth rehab start while recovering from a strained hamstring. The veteran right-hander is scheduled to appear in one more minor-league game before coming off the disabled list, at which point the Nationals have to make a tough decision.

Before Saturday's game, Johnson dropped a bit of a surprise, saying Wang likely will go to the bullpen once he joins the big-league roster. It wouldn't be the ideal move, because Wang does not profile well as a reliever. But it would keep the talented Detwiler in the rotation.

Given the manner in which Detwiler has struggled his last two times out, though, few would be shocked if Johnson has a change of heart.

"Everybody says it's a good problem to have, but probably not for the questions I'm going to get asked in this room," the manager said. "Because there's no easy choice."

Another start like this from Detwiler, and Johnson might have no choice but to make the change.