Nationals Are Swept Aside in Colorado

Ross Detwiler hands over the ball after a tough outing.
Ross Detwiler hands over the ball after a tough outing. (By David Zalubowski -- Associated Press)
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By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 9, 2009

DENVER, July 8 -- If ever there comes a day, years from now, when historians gather up the courage to revisit the 2009 Washington Nationals, perhaps they can begin and end their study with a quick, purposeful look at the 21 1/2 hours between 6:40 p.m. Tuesday and 4:14 p.m. Wednesday.

In that span, the Washington Nationals lost two baseball games. They committed six errors, not that they didn't try for more. The final innings of their latest defeat, a 10-4 afternoon decision against Colorado at Coors Field, unfolded at a deadening pace suited to stop matter itself.

So yes, there is a twisted sort of history here. Uniquely adept at losing, unmatched in their willingness to make a beautiful sport unsightly, the Nationals finished perhaps their most degenerative series of the year with help from every comer. Adam Dunn played first base as you would expect of a non-quality left fielder, Ron Villone pitched as you would expect of a 39-year-old, Julián Tavárez pitched as you would expect of a 39-year-old (except he's 36!) and Ross Detwiler pitched as you'd expect of a 23-year-old, or at least one who belongs in the International League.

On a day when several veterans received the day off, bench players seized the opportunities to showcase absolutely nothing. Shortstop Alberto González, ranging right for a hard-hit third-inning grounder, muffed an attempt that wasn't ruled an error but sure looked like one. Catcher Wil Nieves, mask off, dropped a foul pop-up. Austin Kearns grounded into a double play, his 12th in 157 at-bats, and later whiffed on a one-strike pitch while losing hold of his bat, which sailed 130 feet down the left field line, landing at the feet of third base umpire Randy Marsh. Kearns struck out two pitches later, on a check swing.

The entire trip to Denver, home of baseball's hottest team, canceled any goodwill from that Fourth of July weekend homestand, a brief experiment with winning and crisp fielding.

"It's disappointing," catcher Nieves said.

In the series finale, Washington couldn't muster a hit between the first and sixth innings against Colorado starter Jorge De La Rosa (6 1/3 innings, five hits, three runs). But the Nationals had even larger problems with their own starter, Detwiler, who threw 89 pitches -- at least 70 of which were fastballs.

Now 10 starts into his big league career, Detwiler is still without a win. Just two of his last eight outings have been quality starts, and his ERA, treated to an eight-hit barrage from Colorado, stands at 6.40. The left-hander's latest effort fell apart because he lost confidence in his breaking pitches, felt shaky with his release point and threw almost every pitch belt-high. Do that, and every hitter is an Albert Pujols. The Rockies broke open the game and knocked Detwiler from it in the fifth, when Todd Helton and Garrett Atkins started with back-to-back singles and Troy Tulowitzki walked.

With the bases loaded and no outs, pitching coach Steve McCatty paid a visit to the mound.

The next hitter, Ryan Spilborghs, promptly cranked the fourth pitch of the at-bat -- and the fourth fastball -- into the right field corner for a bases-clearing triple. That was Detwiler's final pitch of the day.

"He had no command of any of his pitches," Manager Manny Acta said. "I don't know if he was intimidated by the altitude, but he didn't throw enough breaking balls. That's a big pitch for him, his curveball, and I didn't see it. Perhaps he didn't feel like he could throw it for a strike, but you still need to throw it to see if you can get a feel for it."

After this defeat, attendants in the visiting clubhouse packed players' bags. Several veterans sat at a folding table, eating quick dinners. Detwiler sat on a chair, facing his locker, staring at his hands. Later, speaking about his performance, he kept the analysis brief.

"I just don't think I had great command of my off-speed today," he said. "And you go with what you have."

No matter what, Detwiler won't pitch again before the all-star break; Washington begins a four-game series against Houston on Thursday. If the organization decides to send Detwiler to Class AAA -- promoted in May, he came straight from Class AA Harrisburg -- it has plenty of alternatives. Collin Balester and Garrett Mock, both already on the 40-man roster, have had encouraging seasons. As a starter with the Chiefs, Mock is 4-1 with a 1.83 ERA (seven starts).

Asked if Detwiler might benefit from more time in the minors, Acta said: "That's not my decision here. I get these guys, I get them ready to play and I play them. We all knew that this kid was not gonna every five days cruise here. He was pitching in Class A ball last year, so we have to take that into consideration."

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