Detwiler tossed five scoreless innings, allowing two hits and a walk and striking out six, retiring the final 10 hitters he faced and letting just three balls escape the infield. He spotted his low-90s sinker in every corner of the strike zone and bewildered Mets hitters with his vicious curveball.
Detwiler had pitched in the majors every year since 2009, toggling between the majors and minors, the rotation and the bullpen, healthy and infirm. But he had never pitched so close to opening day, never quite like this.
“The last few years, I’ve been kind of up and down, changing teams,” Detwiler said. “Before, I was just filling. Now, especially being on the opening day roster and being a starter, I feel like I belong here a little more.”
Because Detwiler worked as a reliever this spring and had not been stretched out, he lasted only 71 pitches over five innings. But during his time on the mound, he devastated the Mets.
The first two batters he faced knocked hits off him, a double by Ruben Tejada and a single by Ronny Cedeno. Detwiler retired 15 of the next 16 hitters, yielding only a walk and allowing one ball out of the infield.
The Nationals (3-2) retooled their starting pitching this winter, adding two high-priced acquisitions in Edwin Jackson and Gio Gonzalez and welcoming back Stephen Strasburg. No one would have guessed the best performance the first time through would come from Detwiler, the 26-year-old who had been there all along.
“He’s competing and he’s confident,” Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty said, sitting in the dugout before the game. “Before, you’re competing and you’re not really sure what you’re doing. Conviction might be a better word. He knows what he wants to do. He’s doing a much better job of that. He’s learning.”
Tuesday, Detwiler received offensive support from the game’s first batter when Ian Desmond crushed Mets starter Dillon Gee’s third pitch deep into the left field seats. Jayson Werth smacked four hits for the first time since June 2009 and drove in two runs. He produced that feat — at least three hits and multiple RBI in the same game — twice in all of 2011. Ryan Zimmerman notched the 500th RBI of his career with a sacrifice fly in the eighth inning.
“I just focused on being more relaxed up there,” Werth said. “Looking back, that’s what I’ve done. It’s been a focus. I felt like I’ve been swinging the bat pretty good, but haven’t had a whole lot to show for it.”