As the Nationals held on for a victory Friday night, their fifth starter spot became an open competition. Ross Detwiler began the game on the mound, but with each laborious inning and smack on his glove, his hold spot seemed less secure. After Chien-Ming Wang fired three innings, strong despite a few rocky moments, it became even tenuous.
“Yes and no,” Manager Davey Johnson said when asked if he would re-evaluate the fifth starter. Which, of course, means yes. He will not make the decision immediately, after a game when “emotions are running pretty high.” But you can be certain he will consider bringing Wang into the rotation and sending Detwiler to the bullpen.
“I mean, Det has been outstanding all year long,” Johnson said. “The last two, three outings haven’t been vintage Det. He’s got a great arm, great stuff, but that one was especially difficult for me.”
Detwiler had allowed three runs on five hits and four walks in 4 1/3 innings, his shortest start this season, an outing defined by deep counts and foul body language. Detwiler is one of two left-handed starters, an advantage for him. But he has struggled lately, and with Wang in the fold, the bar is set high to stay in the rotation.
“I have to go out there and do my job,” Detwiler said. “There’s no extra pressure or anything. It just wasn’t a good game.”
Before Wang strained his hamstring in the spring, Nationals evaluators had come to view him as one of their top three or four starters, as good as, or perhaps better than, Jordan Zimmermann. “I feel a little bit better today” than in spring training, Wang said through a translator.
Wang frequently hit 94 mph with his sinker, and his mixed in a sharp breaking ball. Wang allowed two inherited runners to score on his first pitch, and on his last pitch Jason Heyward hit a massive home run. But Wang retired eight of the 11 batters he faced, and his stuff left an impression on the Nationals.
“He looked absolutely awesome,” shortstop Ian Desmond said. “I thought they were going to let him keep on going, to be honest.”
Wang may soon get a chance to keep going in the rotation. Detwiler still has a high ceiling, and the Nationals will surely need him as a starter later in the year. They put him in the rotation, remember, at the cost of sending a pitcher making $5 million, John Lannan, to Class AAA. For now, though, as Detwiler struggles through inconsistency, Wang could grab his spot.
“That’s the $64,000 question,” Johnson said.