By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 30, 2009
PHILADELPHIA, May 29 -- So long as night after night that passes without a win, the Washington Nationals -- and in particular, the subset of rookies in their pitching rotation -- must grow without the gratification. Ross Detwiler is one of those rookies, and because of that, he is sure to have more nights like Friday. Nights when he is rocked by a good lineup, then saddled with a long night to think about it.
Nights like these -- and how he bounces back from them -- will determine the arc of Detwiler's career. Washington's 5-4 defeat against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park became close because of a just-short rally and four innings of scoreless work by the bullpen. But isolate Detwiler's contribution -- four innings pitched, five earned runs, 10 hits -- and you have the reason why Washington lost its fourth in a row, and its 13th in 15 games.
Nights like this are worth nothing, but for what they teach. That's why Detwiler was willing to look anywhere for advice. He took it from a veteran. He took it from the experience itself. He took it from a fortune cookie.
After the game, veteran reliever Ron Villone, seated in a clubhouse chair, nodded at the left-hander and said, "Sit down for a second." Villone wanted to keep his advice private, but said in an interview: "There is no reason to hang your head. He's a young kid, but he won't give in. He's got too good an arm. I know from listening to him, he may not have the loudest voice, but he definitely is not afraid to go back out there. Even tonight, he would have pitched a lot more if they had let him.
"Watching him prepare, I like what he does. He doesn't lose his concentrate, his focus. And that's important. We've got to build. We've got to build from somewhere."
Before taking the mound against Philadelphia, Detwiler had reason to relish his major league experience, almost every pitch of it. Here he was, 23 years old, rail thin -- "looking like a strong breeze could blow him over," catcher Josh Bard said -- and yet everything he'd shown, to date, vouched for his formidability.
Washington's delight with Detwiler had to do not only with his penchant for strikes, but with what happened when batters swung at them. In two previous starts -- 11 innings -- Detwiler had allowed just five hits.
Then he encountered the Phillies, the second-highest scoring team in the NL. The team that treats Washington like a tractor treats hay.
Detwiler learned in his third major league start what it feels like when you throw strikes and the opposing lineup is perfectly untroubled by that. From the first pitch, the Phillies hit him hard. Jimmy Rollins started the game with a double down the third base line. Carlos Ruiz drove in a run in the second by drilling a double toward the right field wall. In the third, Chase Utley doubled toward left. Pedro Feliz tripled to center. Washington's outfielders were running an unplanned 5K, and occasionally crashing into walls in the process.
Philadelphia scored one run in the second, three more in the third and a final run in the fourth. At one point, Detwiler had recorded nine outs, and the Phillies had 10 hits. When Washington used a pinch-hitter in the top of the fifth, Detwiler was finished -- just 68 pitches, and a new perspective from the valley of big league pitching.
What Washington liked: Only that Detwiler never backed down.
Said Acta: "There's not a great experience when you're getting roughed up, but the fact that he threw strikes, that he wasn't walking the whole ballpark, that he was still being aggressive -- that's fine with us. That is what we want him to do."
When Detwiler returned to the clubhouse after the game, he admitted that his release point had been a bit off. That's why too many pitches stayed high. "Everybody has days like that," he said, "but the great pitchers make adjustments, and today I didn't make the adjustment that I needed to."
They were serving Chinese food in the clubhouse.
Detwiler grabbed a fortune cookie.
It read, "He who never makes mistakes never did anything that's worthy."