What are the Nationals doing with Ross Detwiler?

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 30:  Ross Detwiler #48 of the Washington Nationals pitches against the Houston Astros in the eighth inning at Minute Maid Park on April 30, 2014 in Houston,Texas. (Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images)

(Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images)

Ross Detwiler is a pretty solid left-handed starting pitcher, a former sixth overall choice now in his prime. It would be hard to state this definitively, but it’s quite possible Detwiler has thrown fewer consequential pitches this year than any pitcher who’s been on a big league roster for the entirety of the season. What we have here is an incongruity.

We addressed the Nationals’ use of Detwiler last week, but in the days since it has only grown odder. The Nationals inserted Detwiler into the eighth inning of a 7-0 game in Houston. Over the weekend in Philadelphia, against a team stacked with left-handed hitters and in a stadium where the wind whipped out to right, Detwiler never even warmed up.

Matt Williams said he wanted to hold Detwiler out if possible, to keep him available for a potential spot start Tuesday night. That made sense until Detwiler tossed some warm-up pitches in the eighth inning Monday and the Nationals named Blake Treinen the starter for Tuesday.

Treinen is a fine choice — he’s got a big arm, and he has the steady temperament to handle the spot assignment. But if the Nationals are going with Treinen, why was Detwiler held out four games so he could possibly pitch in long relief? Maybe next the Nationals will let Detwiler put out the boxes of gum and sunflower seeds.

In the theory, the Nationals’ decision to send Detwiler to the bullpen was a good idea. They envisioned him as a power lefty who could shift between roles. In practice, they have turned an asset into a spare part making $3.5 million.

Out of 98 qualified relievers, Detwiler is 95th with an average leverage index of .558. An aLI of one indicates a situation of average pressure on the pitcher. The three pitchers behind him: Donn Roach, J.J. Putz and Jeff Manship. If the Nationals wanted to turn Detwiler into a mop-up reliever, they could have traded him for one and got some kind of prospect back, too.

It’s not like the Nationals’ usage of Detwiler is sinking their season. They’re 18-14 and in first place despite a confluence of injuries. And there are some valid reasons for Detwiler’s odd usage. Constant deficits have necessitated long relief. Jerry Blevins has been awesome, and thereby mitigated the need for a second left-handed reliever. No matter Detwiler’s role in its success, the Nationals’ bullpen has been one of the best in the majors, so it’s hard to criticize how roles are shaking out.

Still, it has been strange disregard for a good player. Detwiler is too good to hold the role he has now, because his role is, he doesn’t have one.

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