Ross Detwiler on relieving: ‘I still have to pitch’

TAMPA, FL - MARCH 3:  Ross Detwiler #48 of the Washington Nationals looks on from the dugout after being taken off the mound during the 2nd inning of a spring training game against the New York Yankees on March 3, 2014 at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

(Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

Ross Detwiler reacted with anger and disappointment when the Nationals moved him to the bullpen, a natural reaction that his bosses accepted and even appreciated. By this afternoon, Detwiler had outwardly moved on from the initial irritation.

“I still have to pitch and get outs,” Detwiler said. “I can’t really dwell on the negatives. You’ve got to take as many positives out of it as you can. I’ve got to go out there and prove I can get outs.

“I’m just focusing on going out there tonight. I’ve got to throw tonight, so there’s no sense taking any of that out to the mound. Then I hurt myself and not perform.”

Detwiler said the Nationals had not yet informed him of his specific role. Until they do, he said, he is not sure how his experience will help his transition. Detwiler pitched in relief during parts of 2011 and 2012, primarily as a long reliever. The Nationals are intent on utilizing him as a power lefty, a weapon few teams possess out of the bullpen.

Pitching coach Steve McCatty stressed yesterday that Detwiler had not lost the competition for the fifth spot. Instead, the Nationals decided Detwiler offered a larger upgrade over their options in the bullpen than over their choices at fifth starter. Asked if he understood that logic, Detwiler paused. “I’ve got no comment on that,” he eventually said.

Even as Detwiler prepared for his first relief appearance, he clung to hope he will return to the rotation.

“I still view myself as a starter,” Detwiler said. “But I’m not going to go out there and hope somebody does bad or somebody gets hurt. We’re in it to win. And I think it’s going to hurt worse if we don’t win the whole thing this year.”

It is common for a converted starter to be disappointed, and even to stay disappointed. Tyler Clippard moved to the bullpen in 2009, and in the five years since, he has become one of the best late-inning relievers in the league. He will make almost $6 million this season. And yet, the move to the bullpen still stings part of him.

“I still think I could start,” Clippard said. “That part of me has never gone away. It’s the competitor in me. I feel like I can get outs in any inning, in any situation, and be successful. That’s just the nature of it.”

From experience, Clippard believes getting over the disappointment will be key for Detwiler.

“There’s definitely a part of you that feels slighted,” Clippard said. “The competitor inside you, you want to succeed at whatever role you’re given. If somebody tells you, ‘Well, we want you to be not a reliever, not a starter,’ it’s hard to not feel like that is a step backwards, or a demotion, or however you want to put it. For me, I just tried to make the best of that situation. I wanted to be a starter still, but it was like, all right, they’re not going to let me. So I’m going to be the best reliever I possibly can be. I think that helped me move forward and have success as a reliever. That’s what you have to do. He’s got no choice. He’s in that situation, so he’s got to make the best of that. And I think he will.”

Clippard is a primary case of a pitcher who used the switch from starting to reliever to further his career. His advice to Detwiler is to be himself. First, Clippard thinks Detwiler’s approach will work naturally. “He’s aggressive in the zone with his fastball, and I think as a reliever, that’s going to be even more beneficial for him,” Clippard said. Universally, Clippard said, pitchers have more success when they stay true to their own style.

“I know what I tried to do as a reliever,” Clippard said. “I hope everyone does it who transfers to the bullpen: Don’t change who you are. You got to really stick to who you are as a pitcher and know your strengths and what got you to the big leagues, and where you’re at in your career. Because you move to the bullpen doesn’t mean you got to reinvent yourself. He’s got electric stuff, and his stuff plays no matter inning he’s pitching. I think he realizes that. If he has any questions, we’ll be more than happy to answer them. I think he’ll be just fine.”

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