MIAMI — On the surface, it may appear baffling how Ross Detwiler has been able to be so successful early this season when his pitching repertoire has been so basic. The Nationals left-hander has thrown 279 pitches in three starts, 258 of them fastballs. That's an astounding 92.5 percent rate.
"A well-located fastball is still the hardest pitch to hit in the big leagues," teammate Ryan Zimmerman said. "I think some people forget that sometimes."
Detwiler is making everyone remember it. Amid a rotation full of star power and pure stuff, the 27-year-old has been the Nationals' best starter so far during this young season. And with seven more strong innings Wednesday night against the Marlins, he finally was rewarded for his effort, leading the Nats to a 6-1 win to ensure a series victory in Miami.
Three starts in, Detwiler now boasts a 0.90 ERA, sixth-best in the majors. And if not for a blown call at the plate Wednesday by umpire Greg Gibson, that number would drop to a miniscule 0.45.
Not exactly your typical "No. 5 starter."
"He's definitely not," manager Davey Johnson said. "He's got great stuff, and he locates it well. He uses both sides of the plate as good as anybody I've seen. And his fastball's explosive out of his hand. ... He's still in the learning stages, but he's awfully good just right where he's at."
Detwiler indeed is still learning how to become a complete pitcher, which may explain why his fastball rate is so high. It's a bit misleading, because he throws both a four-seamer and a two-seamer, which he considers two entirely different pitches. But the fact remains he's managing to get big-league hitters out without hardly ever throwing his slider or change-up.
"You've got to get guys out with your four-seam fastball in this league," he said, "or you're not going to last very long."
As Detwiler proves his ability to do this on a consistent basis, he's more and more earning the trust of his manager. After pulling the lefty after 82 and 90 pitches in his first two starts, Johnson let him hit for himself in the top of the seventh on Tuesday and then re-take the mound in the bottom of the inning.
The end result: Detwiler threw 107 pitches, a new career-high.
"I felt strong at the end," he said. "That's something I'm going to need to do down the road anyway, so it was good to get it out of the way early."
Detwiler was aided by a well-balanced offensive attack that produced six runs on 11 hits, four of them via Bryce Harper, who returned to the lineup after missing Tuesday's game with flu-like symptoms even though he remained under the weather.
Though he convinced Johnson earlier in the afternoon he could play, Harper was painfully not 100 percent healthy during the game. He received an IV before first pitch, had to retreat to the bathroom in the second inning to vomit, said his head was spinning when he swung the bat and was hunched over several times after running the bases.
"I thought he was going to die every time he went up there," Johnson said.
Yet Harper went 4-for-5 with a double, an RBI and an infield single.
Why not just sit this one out?
"No, I wanted to play," said Harper, now batting .364 with a 1.090 OPS. "My team needed me out there today, and I think I could have helped the team win today. ... I don't really care if I was sick or not. I was going to go out there and play."
Harper wasn't alone in providing offensive support for Detwiler. Kurt Suzuki, starting his fourth straight game since Wilson Ramos went on the disabled list with a hamstring strain, delivered a homer, a triple and a sacrifice fly. He's now batting .375.
"It's definitely nice," Suzuki said. "Everybody wants to play every day. At the same time, I've become pretty good friends with Wilson. To see how hard he's working, to see what had happened to him, such a freak thing, it sucks. We need everybody. Wilson is a special player. He'll make this team better. We need everybody to contribute."
With a healthy lead, Detwiler was free to keep firing fastballs over the plate and force the Marlins to beat him. He nearly tossed a shutout, Miami's lone run scoring on a play at the plate in which Gibson initially ruled Chris Valaika out but immediately changed it to a safe call, upsetting Suzuki, Detwiler and Johnson.
"I saw him go to ring him up, and then he said safe," Suzuki said. "I was wondering if he was looking if I didn't have the ball — because I showed him the ball, that I had it — and he still called him safe. It was a little interesting, but it happens."
In the end, no harm, no foul. The Nationals cruised to their ninth win in 15 games and headed north to New York for a weekend series with the Mets, knowing they got yet another dominant performance from the last guy in their rotation.
"For him to throw as many fastballs as he has and have so much success," Zimmerman said, "it's exciting."