NLDS Game 4: Ross Detwiler on the mound and on the spot for Washington Nationals

As he spoke on the eve of his first postseason start Thursday, Ross Detwiler hoped that this season wouldn’t come to this. He wanted to see fellow Washington Nationals starter Edwin Jackson hold down the potent St. Louis Cardinals in Game 3 of the National League Division Series on Wednesday so he could be handed the ball for a potential series clincher the following day.

Instead, Jackson struggled, saddling the Nationals with an 8-0 loss. And now Detwiler, 26, will climb the mound at Nationals Park with the fate of this city’s first major league postseason appearance in 79 years in his hands.

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The Nationals are on the brink of elimination after an 8-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday in front of a record crowd at Nationals Park in Game 3 of the NLDS.

The Nationals are on the brink of elimination after an 8-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday in front of a record crowd at Nationals Park in Game 3 of the NLDS.

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The man who lost his starting spot early in the season to Chien-Ming Wang only to regain it, then post a breakout year and effectively take the place of Stephen Strasburg in the playoff rotation, now has the chance to be a hero.

“One hundred [percent] confident,” shortstop Ian Desmond said of Detwiler. “I got no worries whatsoever. He’s been great for us all year long. I think he’s due.”

“I’m excited for him to pitch tomorrow,” reliever Craig Stammen said. “Back when we were the [Class A] P-Nats he was our clinching pitcher.”

Detwiler spoke with confidence, ease and humor before Wednesday’s game, dropping in frank assessments of his own failings against the Cardinals. He joked that his last few starts of the season were an exercise of “what not to do.” He said he has tried to forget his loss to the Cardinals on Sept. 30, in which he allowed seven runs, three earned, in 2 1/3 innings in his last outing of the regular season. He vowed to be more aggressive this time, despite a layoff of 10 days in between starts.

“I’m just really going out there trying to throw strikes, trying to get ahead in the count,” he said. “You know, make the hitters hit my pitch instead of having to come after them 2-1, 3-1 like I was the whole time; limit the walks. I think I had five or six walks and I think that’s what really ended up hurting me.”

Detwiler, who grew up 38 miles west of Busch Stadium in Wentzville, Mo., will make his second start against his hometown team.

Over the three seasons, the 2007 first-round draft pick has toggled between reliever and starter. This year, he learned how to better use his lively fastball and biting sinker. And more importantly, he understood he needed to be more aggressive thanks to the urging of veteran reliever Michael Gonzalez. And he learned to be more confident and relaxed with the help of Gio Gonzalez.

Detwiler no longer slouched on the mound after allowing a hit or run. He stood tall and attacked again.

“A lot of these young pitchers, it generally takes, experience-wise, generally takes a couple years,” Nationals Manager Davey Johnson said

Detwiler hopes that the confines of Nationals Park will be as favorable as they have been all season. In 90 1/3 innings at home this year, most of them as a starter, Detwiler is 8-2 with a 2.59 ERA. On the road, his ERA is 4.39 and he has a 2-6 record over 74 innings. Asked for an explanation, he could offer none.

“I’d be a whole lot better on the road if I knew that,” he said. “But I think it’s just a routine thing. I’m able to get in the routine here. I have my places I go before starts at home, and obviously on the road, you’re in a different city, so you can’t do that. So hopefully that’s what it is and I’ll go about that tomorrow.”

Detwiler, like he does during the season before his starts, will wake up without an alarm. He will eat small meals continuously throughout the day, loading up on as many calories as he can without having a big meal. And then, in the afternoon, he will take the ball with the Nationals’ playoff future in his hands.

Johnson said he has full confidence in Detwiler and doesn’t see his start on Thursday in isolation. When he was asked if he would consider starting Gio Gonzalez on three days rest Thursday, the Nats manager shot down the idea.

“I wouldn’t do that,” he said. “We have two more ballgames. Det’s capable of pitching a good game tomorrow. That’s been our strength all year. These young guys have pitched great all year. Need a couple more good-pitched games this series.”

As backup, Jordan Zimmermann, who started Monday, could be available Thursday, his regular throwing day in between starts.

“I have all the confidence in the world that [Detwiler] is going to go out there and have a quality outing,” pitching coach Steve McCatty said. “We all say he’s young. Ross is 26 years old. He’s got experience. He’s been in the big leagues. This is his first time in the postseason. It’s hard to say, treat it like another game, but that’s what you got to do.”

As for Jackson, 29, the lone Nationals starter with postseason experience, his undoing Wednesday was his command early in the game. “I was just missing across the middle of the plate,” he said.

After Jackson struck out Allen Craig with two runners on in the fifth, he walked off the mound and into the dugout trailing 4-0. It may have been Jackson’s final appearance in a Nationals uniform after signing a one-year, $11 million deal at the beginning of the year.

“It happens,” Jackson said. “It could be, could not. It’s definitely not a way you want to end it. Hopefully we come out and are able to get a game tomorrow and get the last game with Gio going. But we have to take it one game at a time. But definitely hope the season doesn’t end like that.”

 
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