The 6-foot-5 southpaw, gifted with what old-timers praised as “the easy gas,” has emerged since the all-star break as one of the three hardest throwing left-handers in the National League, a tick behind the Nats’ Gio Gonzalez and 2011 Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw.
With 10 straight powerful starts since the midseason break, Detwiler has gained more and more confidence in his stuff, his heat trending higher as the season progresses, until now he has also moved into baseball’s elite in nearly every statistical category.
After seven scoreless innings in a 2-1 win over the Cubs on Labor Day (in which he barely labored at all), Detwiler is now in MLB’s top 20 in ERA (3.15), hardest to hit (batting average), hardest to reach base (WHIP), fewest pitches per inning and most groundballs.
If this is who Detwiler has truly become, and his ERA is 3.10 over his last 206 innings, encompassing all of ’11, too, then the Nats have found a lefty comparable to, or a hair behind, Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann.
Couldn’t come at a better time. Detwiler is the Nats’ presumptive fourth starter to join their postseason rotation with Strasburg getting moth-balled.
The 26-year-old, who has spent the last five years battling changed mechanics, hip surgery, a lost curveball and “zero confidence,” has picked a perfect time to put the pieces of his sixth-overall-draft-pick talent back together and emerge as one of the game’s rising stars.
“Det was awesome. He’s been pretty awesome all year long, but today he was real special,” Manager Davey Johnson said.
Above Detwiler’s locker is a poster from the action comedy cop movie “The Other Guys” with Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg flying through the air, dressed in suits, but karate kicking while firing a pair of pistols apiece. But Detwiler and Edwin Jackson’s faces have been photo-shopped in place of the movie stars, courtesy of Jackson’s fiancée.
“Which one am I?” Detwiler said. You’re Ferrell. Finally. Be happy.
On Labor Day, the Nats faced, and beat, Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzija, who ranks third in baseball in velocity behind only Strasburg and Tampa Bay ace David Price. The big Cub topped out at 98, Detwiler at 97.
Detwiler’s delivery is graceful, flowing, almost languid, until his rising fastball zooms through the top of the strike zone at 94 to 97 mph, or his sinker, an even tougher pitch, dives at hitters’ knees just a blink less quickly. No other pitcher in baseball can throw his two fastballs so frequently, 80 percent of the time, simply daring hitters to cope with them and yet still flourish. In fact, when the Nats coaches encouraged him to trust his smoke after the break, he went fastball crazy, throwing 89 percent heat in nine straight starts, including 155 fastballs in 162 pitches in back-to-back starts.
The Nats’ brass had to chuckle. Was this the same choir-boy Detwiler who looked like he was 12 when he was drafted, whose speed dropped 4 mph and whose confidence collapsed after the Nats stupidly changed his cross-the-body throwing mechanics and almost trashed his career. Was this the lefty who lost his fabulous college curveball and, to this day, has never rediscovered how he threw it?