Detwiler will use this spring to try to step forward, at 26, as one of the best left-handed starters in baseball. Overshadowed by the rest of the Nationals’ rotation, Detwiler spent the final two months last season as perhaps their best starter, a lefty who could hit 96 mph and, on some nights, take over a game with one pitch. He marked his performances with newfound body language, all smiles and shrugs.
“It just comes with being comfortable, really,” Detwiler said.
Comfort defines this spring for Detwiler. The hip surgery that once threatened to derail his career is barely a memory. His rebuilt mechanics come to him easily. Last year, he briefly toggled between the bullpen and the rotation. This spring, he knows he has already earned a spot by virtue of his finish in 2012.
From July 17 through Sept. 20 last year, Detwiler went 9-4 with a 2.76 ERA. After he finished the regular season with two subpar outings, he helped extend the Nationals’ season in the National League Division Series, holding the St. Louis Cardinals to one unearned run in six innings.
“He’s just so kind of — not goofy, but he’s so relaxed,” catcher Kurt Suzuki said. “He has a good time. You see him smiling a lot.”
Detwiler accomplished the successful run by leaning on his sinking fastball. Last year, he threw fastballs on 80.3 percent of the pitches, more often than any other starter in the National League. One start, he shut out the Philadelphia Phillies for seven innings while throwing 85 sinkers in 88 pitches.
“He has an idea what he wants to do,” pitching coach Steve McCatty said. “Sometimes, he can be stubborn. But he’s learned how to change what his game plan is, because he’s seeing what’s going on, reading the situation of the games.”
The Nationals, especially Johnson, want Detwiler to throw more curves and change-ups, to keep hitters guessing and to set them up for later in the game. “I don’t think it’s about developing. I think it’s about trust,” Suzuki said. “He’s got it. It’s there. You have to be confident when you’re throwing it. I think towards the end of the year, he’s got more success with it, which allows him to be more confident. If he mixes some off-speed pitches in, I think it’ll put him over the top.”