Both have been brilliant, combining for nine shutout innings and establishing themselves as the hottest pitchers on Team USA. Both have praised the experience of pitching for their country. That’s what you’d expect of the bubbly Gio as well as the gung-ho Detwiler, who cut short his honeymoon in December, leaving his wife in Hawaii, so he could fly halfway around the world to go on a four-country USO tour to boost the troops.
Neither has ever looked sharper, thrown harder or snapped off better curveballs. They look ready for October. Too bad it’s March.
You knew there had to be a rub. And there is — a scary one. The case for letting them pitch, aside from their country’s call, is strong in both cases. They are in their primes at 27, old enough to take the weight of big games seven months apart, but they hope, still young enough to survive it.
Neither has had arm problems. And both can use more experience under pressure. Gonzalez lost his 21-win poise against St. Louis in the playoffs, walking 11 men in 10 innings. He needs to get back on the horse. Detwiler was stellar in Game 4. Given his big talent but shy manner, this is a chance to rub shoulders with stars and build on that center-stage success.
But there is a “but.” If either of them runs out of gas down the stretch or has arm miseries during the season, everybody, including me, will say the same thing. Was the World Baseball Classic worth the World Series?
The U.S. team has done poorly in previous WBCs. Many stars duck out, fearing injury. Who wants to ramp up the effort so soon after taking off a winter? MLB says fewer players get hurt in the WBC than during spring training. Maybe so, but plenty of pitchers vote with their feet.
Gonzalez and Detwiler didn’t. If America wins its first WBC title, they likely will be cornerstones. Is that a sign of taking unnecessary risks with prize pitchers? You shut down Stephen Strasburg in the playoffs, but you bless sending two-fifths of your rotation to the WBC?
Or is this just another omen that now is The Time of the Nats?
After five elegant, efficient innings to beat Puerto Rico on Tuesday, Gonzalez is now America’s ace, ahead of rusty 2012 Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey or Giants postseason star Ryan Vogelsong (3-0, 1.09 ERA).
Detwiler pitched the final four shutout innings Saturday night, thus establishing himself in a difficult vital role. Because of WBC pitch limits, teams need, in essence, a second starting pitcher to bridge the gap to the conventional back-end relievers. Detwiler was so sharp that Manager Joe Torre let him close the game, too, to save U.S. relievers for what proved to be a do-or-die win Sunday. It’s hard duty. Detwiler earned it. But now it’s his.