Updated, 1:55 p.m.
Even before he woke up this morning and saw the message waiting on his phone, left-hander Ross Detwiler hoped to pitch for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Detwiler said. “I wanted to be able to one day hang a jersey on my wall and say, ‘I played for the U.S.’ And hopefully be able to show off a ring.”
Detwiler will have the chance. When he listened to MLB Players Association official Tony Clark ask him if he wanted to play, his first thought was, “Absolutely.” After he checked with Nationals brass – pitching coach Steve McCatty, GM Mike Rizzo and Manager Davey Johnson – he accepted the invitation.
“Any time you can represent your country, especially doing your job, it’s pretty amazing,” said Detwiler, who this winter spent a week meeting troops overseas on a USO tour. “It’s kind of the last thing to cap off my offseason. I don’t know if any offseason is going to get better.”
Detwiler, Johnson said, will pitch his first WBC game March 9 in Arizona. The plan is for Detwiler to enter in relief of another USA starter and pitch three or four innings. Detwiler will make his first spring start with the Nationals on Feb. 26 and make two appearances before leaving for Arizona.
Concerns over injury and interrupted preparation convince many players to skip the event or teams to keep their players in camp. The Nationals never had any worry. Rizzo and Johnson both trust the Team USA pitching brain trust of Manager Joe Torre and pitching coaches Greg Maddux and Marcel Lachemann. Rizzo unequivocally supported Detwiler and Gonzalez pitching in the WBC.
“Having that USA across your chest is something every player should have,” Rizzo said. “The staff over with team USA, they’ve been around the block a time or two. We feel confident. We’re humbled and flattered that Team USA wants two of our starting pitchers on their ball club. We think it’s vitally important Team USA is well-represented.”
Detwiler, 26, has a spot in the back of the Nationals’ sewn up after he went 10-8 with a 3.40 ERA last season. He arrived in Viera in late January and has already thrown about eight bullpen sessions. He feels good about the condition of his arm, and Johnson said he has always been impressed with how quickly Detwiler looks ready in spring.
“I’m definitely not going to take it lightly,” Detwiler said. “If I feel anything at all, my No. 1 priority is this team here. We have bigger and better things to do than we did last year here. If I feel anything at all, I’ going to have to shut it down and give somebody else a chance.”
With Detwiler starting Feb. 26 for the Nats, Dan Haren will make his spring debut the following day against the Braves. Once Detwiler and Gonzalez, who will leave only for the second round in Miami, head out of camp, the Nationals will have open spots for starters. Johnson said he would evaluate how pitchers perform before making a decision on who will make the vacant starts, but mentioned Zach Duke, Christian Garcia, Nathan Karns and Tanner Roark as candidates.
The Nationals have no problem letting their starters leave for the WBC. Both Rizzo and Johnson expected Detwiler to benefit from the experience.
“It’s a great honor and it’s a great thrill,” Johnson said. “He’ll get a lot out of it.”