Back in March, when they removed him from the role he wanted, the Nationals envisioned Ross Detwiler as an important part of their part bullpen. They have relied on him mostly in mop-up duty and long relief, but that will likely change over the final two months of the season.
“I’ll just be ready whenever they call down,” Detwiler said. “I don’t try to read too far into things.”
Friday, the Nationals swapped out Aaron Barrett for Blake Treinen, who can provide the long relief. The move opened up Detwiler for pivotal situations, particularly against left-handers. He has earned the trust with his performance since June, punching up a 2.08 ERA with a 0.84 WHIP. He has grown into relieving, even as he’s continued to resist it.
“Absolutely, I still see myself as a starter,” Detwiler said. “Tough situation now, so what do you do?”
And does he see it becoming less tough?
“I don’t think so,” Detwiler said. “I got two months left. We’ll see what happens.”
Even if Detwiler hasn’t embraced pitching in relief, he has started to excel at it. The Nationals know he can pitch in big situations – he delivered the most clutch start in team history in Game 4 of the 2012 NLDS. And he’s proven now he can pitch well out of the bullpen.
“Toward the beginning of the season, there was a few days when I had 10 days off between [appearances],” Detwiler said. “It’s tough to get a good feeling. It’s just being out there, being in more key situations helps. Once you get on a roll, you try to ride it until you have a tough one and then try to get on another roll.”
Regular usage has helped Detwiler. He’s also leaned on fellow relievers, particularly Jerry Blevins, to learn about the role. Still, Detwiler is not fully comfortable with the bullpen.
“I still don’t think I’ve figured out a routine yet,” Detwiler said. “You never know when you’re going to pitch. You got to be ready at all times. You got to be locked in to the whole game. It’s a lot more draining than I expected it to be. It’s an adjustment.”
The turning point for Detwiler came June 24 in Milwaukee, when he reeled off an epic relief performance. In four innings, from the 10th through the 13th, Detwiler threw 46 pitches – all fastballs – and fired four scoreless innings. The outing finally allowed him to find a rhythm, and he has held on to it. Including that outing, opponents have hit .170 against him and he’s allowed two runs in 16 innings since.
“I was able to actually get out there for more than a couple pitches,” Detwiler said. “That’s something I was used to. Once you go back to something you’re used to, the norm, you get locked back in, I think.”
Even if Detwiler hasn’t warmed to the idea of relieving, he’s improved at it. In the coming seasons, he hopes he’ll return to starting. In the coming two months, he’ll settle for trying to get crucial outs from the bullpen, the role he’s earned with his past two months.