Tuesday morning, Ross Detwiler jogged the perimeter of Field 1 with a pair of teammates, another part of the uneventful routine that seemed so refreshing to him. He had arrived in Viera on Feb. 2, Super Bowl Sunday, with a dual aim of preparing for the season and winning back the Nationals’ No. 5 starting spot. The best part was what he didn’t have to worry about.
Last winter, Detwiler got married, honeymooned briefly in Hawaii and took a week-long trip overseas as part of a USO Tour. In the spring, he left Viera and pitched for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. He wouldn’t take back any of the experiences, but he believes now they had an adverse effect.
“I was always on the go then,” Detwiler said. “I think that hurt me a little bit. This year, I think I’ll be a lot more focused on staying here and getting in a routine.
“There was times there were, you miss a workout here, miss a workout there, doing different stuff,” Detwiler added. “This year, I just stayed at home the whole time and really focused on getting in a routine, getting all my workouts in, feeling a whole better.”
Spending the offseason at home in Missouri, Detwiler added 10 pounds of muscle. He also gained an appreciation for the monotony of spring training. As he pitched in the WBC, he fell out of his typical rhythm and never recaptured it heading into the season.
“I think that could be part of it,” Detwiler said. “I kind of got out of a routine. As a pitcher, especially as a starter, routines are huge. You got to get in a routine, get your body used to everything, and that’s going to help you in the long run. I wasn’t able to get in a routine last year until the end of spring. I had a lot of stuff going on last year. I’m glad that’s in the past.”
Detwiler emerged on opening day as the Nationals’ fifth starter, and after eight solid starts to begin the season, his hectic spring caught up to him. A back injury led to a stint on the disabled list, and after a brief return he missed the final three months of the season and eventually underwent surgery to repair a herniated disk.
Detwiler put himself at ease when he pitched 6 1/3 innings in a start last fall in the instructional league. He has thrown three bullpen sessions this spring, and said he felt “great” each time.
Still, Detwiler’s health problems led General Manager Mike Rizzo to declare the Nationals’ fifth starter spot an open competition. If Tanner Roark or Taylor Jordan claim the job, the Nationals may move Detwiler into a relief role. Detwiler reiterated his view of the competition: as long as he can avoid injury, he will let the rest fall into place.
“If I have to prove anything, it’s just health,” Detwiler said. “Every time I’ve been healthy and I’ve been out there throwing, I did just fine. Even the start of last year, until I had the first injury, I thought I was throwing the ball pretty well. Once the health starts deteriorating, so does the pitching. As long as I’m healthy, I’ll be fine. Whatever they want to do, that’s up to them.”
While Detwiler traveled less this winter and has no international tournaments to worry about this spring, he made good with one off-the-field endeavor. On the USO Tour last year, Detwiler met Shane Hudella, a former soldier who started the charity Defending The Blue Line, a charity that donates hockey equipment to children of active and former military personnel who can’t afford it.
Detwiler, with help from fellow USO Tour participant Craig Stammen, proposed an idea to Hudella: why not start a similar charity for baseball? Hudella brought Defending The Base Line to life. Last week, Detwiler donated $15,000.
Detwiler and Stammen have discussed printing T-shirts and selling them, with profits going back to Defending The Base Line.
“We just kind of talked to them about starting something new for baseball,” Detwiler said. “He was completely open to it and got around to it this year. I think it’s great. It’s going to be great for our sport having all the military kids out there. They grew up learning how to work hard. I think it’s just going to make our sport better and keep them with something to do.
“It’s pretty cool. Hopefully we can have a camp or something. That’s when it really hits home, when you see them using all this stuff.”