Nationals' Detwiler Earns First Major League Victory

Washington Nationals' Mike Morse, right, celebrates his solo home run with teammate Alberto Gonzalez (12) during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the New York Mets, Monday, Sept. 28, 2009, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Washington Nationals' Mike Morse, right, celebrates his solo home run with teammate Alberto Gonzalez (12) during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the New York Mets, Monday, Sept. 28, 2009, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) (Manuel Balce Ceneta - AP)
By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Withstanding defeat after defeat, interrupted only by the occasional no-decision, Ross Detwiler has been trained in his best professional season to expect the worst. Entering his final game of the year, he had not a win-loss record, but a loss record (0-6). Among the 165 starters who'd made at least 12 starts in the major leagues this season, only one -- Detwiler -- remained winless.

The value of all that waiting only revealed itself on Monday, because that's when Detwiler finally did it. He broke a skid that was kind of-sort of getting too ridiculous to explain away. In the Washington Nationals' 2-1 win against the Mets at Nationals Park, the left-hander pitched six innings of one-run ball, capping the final start of his rookie season with the one accomplishment he's long anticipated.

Check the box score. The small print has never been sweeter: Ross Detwiler (W, 1-6).

"It feels great," Detwiler said. "It kind of takes some pressure off of myself. It's one for the record books."

His bad luck broke, finally, in every way. And in the strangest ways. Detwiler's team gave him a first-inning 1-0 lead, helped by a generously scored Justin Maxwell double that skipped off third baseman David Wright's glove. New York merely tied the game in the sixth, even though Detwiler let up three hits and threw two wild pitches. Utility man Mike Morse, homering for the third consecutive game, provided the go-ahead solo shot in the bottom half of Detwiler's final inning.

And then a beleaguered Washington bullpen, handed a 2-1 lead, still needed to record the final nine outs as Detwiler watched. Despite throwing 12 of his first 17 pitches for balls, Jason Bergmann nailed down two hitless, scoreless innings. In the ninth, closer Mike MacDougal, dependable only for raising blood pressure, quickly retired the side on three ground balls.

"We'd been a little sloppy the last few days, and we went out and played a clean game," said Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, whose first inning sacrifice fly drove in the game's initial run.

At some point, Detwiler figures, he is due for a windfall of more prolonged fortune -- a year's worth of 8-4 victories, bullish run support, the occasional chance to protect a fat lead. In almost every sense but one, 2009 was Detwiler's best professional season. He advanced from Class AA to the big leagues. He was so-so in his first stint but polished in his September return. He looked, for perhaps the first time since college, like a No. 1 draft pick.

For all the progress, though, Detwiler was hounded by results. A few times -- especially in a few June and July starts with the Nationals -- Detwiler pitched like the well-deserving loser. But many times, his losses and no-decisions felt undeserved, serving only to test his patience and ensure his humility. Counting all levels -- first Class AA, then the big leagues, then Class AAA -- Detwiler went winless in his first 21 starts. Only on Aug. 14, with six shutout innings against Rochester, did he finally break the streak.

When he returned to the Nationals this month, he had a big league streak to break, too, because his first 10 starts here had yielded, yup, an 0-5 record. First two chances, he merely performed well when he needed to be perfect. On Sept. 17, Detwiler's first start this month, Philadelphia's Cole Hamels took a no-hitter into the sixth. On Sept. 23, Detwiler's second start this month, Los Angeles's Chad Billingsley took a no-hitter into the sixth. Detwiler's season-long run support (3.06 runs per nine innings) would have ranked last in the National League, if he'd pitched enough to qualify.

Under these circumstances, Detwiler took the mound for the final start of his 2009 season. Again, he performed his job with little room for error. He continued his stellar September (2.47 ERA), only losing his shutout in the sixth when Carlos Beltr?n singled, moved to second on a wild pitch and crossed home on Fernando Tatis's liner over short. Otherwise, Detwiler was in command. He retired eight of the first nine. The Mets managed three hits, all doubles, through the first four innings, but each came with two outs.

"We've seen a difference," Nationals interim manager Jim Riggleman said. "I think when he was here earlier he was okay; he wasn't scared, but now he seems a little looser. More conversational. Just has an air about him that feels like, 'I can get big league hitters out.' "

After this one ended, Detwiler was locked into a postgame television interview when fellow pitcher John Lannan smeared a shaving cream pie in his face. Detwiler had been waiting for it. The shaving cream burned his eyes, but he didn't mind. For Detwiler, the first win was out of the way.

"You know, it's good to get it as soon as you can," he said, "because then you can work on the second one."

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