Finally, the Nats’ brass, including GM Mike Rizzo, threw a collective rant and said, “Where the hell is the guy we drafted? Get him back.” The Nats, who’d once told Detwiler “you’ll never pitch in the majors throwing that way,” told him “go back to throwing that way.”
He’d forgotten how. “I have no idea what my old mechanics were,” he says. “I rebuilt it and now I’m finally comfortable again.”
Now, even Detwiler’s own teammates can hardly believe how far he’s come even though, in the last two Nats spring trainings, the buzz was always, “Who’s throwing the best of anybody? Detwiler. Go look at him.”
“We were in the bullpen looking at the [radar readings],” Tyler Clippard said. “We were trying to figure out what left-handers throw harder. Price and Matt Moore in Tampa Bay. Who else? Basically, nobody.”
That’s correct, give or take six inches, especially if you look at his last 10 starts, including Monday’s 94.0 average speed.
“Det is worlds apart from where he was at the start of last year. Now, he looks like he has all the confidence,” Clippard said. “He’s spotting his sinker at 95. I’d put him up with anybody.”
The last (huge) piece of the puzzle came this year: mound presence. From Gonzalez he took the lesson to be happier in his work, less tense. But, during a bullpen stint, it was veteran lefty Mike Gonzalez who preached “that aggressive attack attitude,” Detwiler said. Now, before his first pitch, his intro music is Metallica’s thundering “Wherever I May Roam.” Come on, adorable skinny Ross Detwiler?
“After I hear that song, I get a huge adrenalin rush,” Detwiler said. “My first three pitches of the game were sinker for a called strike, fastball up and away for a swinging strike and a sinker painted low away [at 95] for [called] strike three. I think that sent a message.”
The Nats’ scoreboard advised the crowd: “Someone or something effecting your enjoyment of the game? Call . . .” Too bad the Cubs couldn’t complain about Detwiler spoiling their fun.
The day’s best development was that Detwiler incorporated the advice of pitching coach Steve McCatty to use his change-up and curveball more as the game progressed and hitter’s got a better bead on his fastball. Detwiler ended minor jams in the fourth, fifth and seventh by getting the last outs with a curve, change-up and curveball for a double play, all pitch calls by catcher Kurt Suzuki. Still, 78 of his 93 pitchers were two varieties of that easy gas.
Years ago, when the Nats introduced Detwiler, General Manager Jim Bowden gushed about how power-pitching left-handers were essential for “postseason baseball.” The Nats did everything but name Detwiler their Game 1 starter in the World Series — year or decade unknown. Bob Boone compared him to Steve Carlton as a skinny teenager.
“I remember — July 5, 2007,” Detwiler said. “I’ve been through a lot since then, including one point with zero confidence.”
Now, it’s come full circle.
“Left-handers take longer. Sometimes, they have to figure out how good their stuff is,” Johnson said. “Koufax didn’t put it together until he was 26.”
Oh, give it a rest.
Johnson gives a you-never-know-how-good-they’ll-get shrug. “When he learns how to use his whole arsenal, it’s going to be a lot.”
A lot of what?
For previous columns by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/boswell.