Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ross Detwiler allowed seven runs (four earned) in four innings.
This isn't some stop-gap, rotation fill-in the Nats are sending to the mound every five days. This is a first-round draft pick who has always projected as a hard-throwing left-hander who has the ability to get opposing hitters out on his own. Unlike plenty of others in the Nationals' system who have to "pitch to contact," Detwiler has the stuff to make hitters swing and miss.
But three starts into his big-league return, Detwiler remains a mystery wrapped in an enigma. He's pitched well at times, has pitched poorly at times and more than anything has received zero help from the guys behind him.
Of the 13 runs Detwiler has allowed in 13 innings so far, only five have been earned.
"Really, we played so bad -- and we've done that a couple of times when he's pitched -- it's really hard to get a read on how he's pitching," Jim Riggleman said following tonight's 8-4 loss to the Diamondbacks.
Two costly errors in Milwaukee two weeks ago spoiled Detwiler's season debut. His teammates played clean baseball behind him last weekend against the Phillies, and he responded with 5 1/3 innings of one-run ball. But the circus returned tonight to Chase Field, with Adam Dunn booting a second-inning grounder that led to an unearned run and Ryan Zimmerman booting a fourth-inning grounder that led to two more unearned runs.
Now, Detwiler could have helped himself by responding to the errors with better pitches. Dunn's error was immediately followed by a Bobby Crosby RBI double. Zimmerman's error was immediately followed by a Stephen Drew RBI single.
That's why the 24-year-old lefty wasn't at all satisfied with his performance tonight.
"If I get another groundball after an error, then we can get out of the inning," he said. "I was just giving up hits after errors, which hurts us even more."
Detwiler was concerned about his struggles with fastball location -- he was leaving too many pitches up around the belt tonight -- and he believes faulty mechanics and/or a faulty mental approach is the problem.
"It could be [rust from the long layoff following hip surgery]," he said. "It could also be not getting over my front side. Whether I'm subconsciously a little hesitant to get over the leg I just had surgery on or not, something needs to change."
Plenty of changes are coming to the Nationals' rotation. Jason Marquis is coming off the disabled list Sunday to start against the Dodgers. Stephen Strasburg is all but assured of returning Tuesday against the Marlins. Two of the current five starters have to go, and Detwiler hasn't exactly distinguished himself so far.
But the Nationals also know he's been the victim of some horrible defense behind him. They also know he's one of the few high-ceiling pitching prospects they've got left. So he figures to get more chances to show them what he's got.
It would help, however, if his teammates gave him a better opportunity to state his case once and for all.
"He's having to pitch out of trouble," Riggleman said. "He's pitching in situations he shouldn't have to be pitching in. It's just really hard to get a decent read on how he's doing. The strikeouts indicate he's throwing the ball pretty good. He's got some people chasing some balls in the dirt. He's gotten some people looking at strike-three fastballs. The quality of the stuff seems good. We're just not giving him much of a chance."
For now, though, the Nationals need to keep giving Detwiler a chance, even if his teammates aren't.