By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 26, 2010; D01
MILWAUKEE -- Months in the making, Ross Detwiler's first major league appearance of 2010 fizzled in moments. Unexpected hip surgery delayed Detwiler's promise in the spring; he spent months healing; eight rehab appearances nurtured him back into shape. On Sunday afternoon, finally, he walked to the Miller Park mound. An error. Wildness. Another error. A home run. The Washington Nationals were behind. Detwiler was finished.
Detwiler had existed all season as one of the reinforcements who would reshape the Nationals' rotation in the season's final months. He may yet make a difference, but his defense and a spasm of control issues gave him little chance in an 8-3 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers before 42,414. All five runs he allowed in 3 2/3 innings were unearned, leading to a Brewers sweep.
The Nationals finished their trip 3-7 despite being outscored only 43-39. "We're just not hitting on all cylinders," first baseman Adam Dunn said. "We get really good pitching, we can't hit our way out of a wet paper sack. And vice versa."
Shoddy defense has mostly been a constant. Their two errors Sunday brought the Nationals' total to 80, two more than the Florida Marlins. The Nationals had made only three errors since the all-star break, but Sunday they made up for lost time.
"We've got to play a lot cleaner baseball," said Willie Harris, who committed an error at third base. "It's ridiculous. We've got to catch the ball. We've got to take some pressure off of our pitchers."
They placed undue pressure Sunday on Detwiler, appearing in his first major league game since last September. "It's a little different feeling," he said. "After the first couple pitches, I felt like I settled in a little bit."
Pitching on three days' rest following his last start at Class AA Harrisburg, Detwiler allowed three hits and, more damaging, three walks while striking out four. He threw 52 strikes in 86 pitches, the final one landing in the upper deck beyond left field, a two-run home run by Rickie Weeks.
The Nationals could have used a longer start, and Detwiler tried to provide it. When they decided earlier in the week Detwiler would start, the Nationals assumed he would throw no more than five innings or 60 pitches. On Saturday afternoon, Manager Jim Riggleman approached Detwiler and told him, "I know you're pitching on three days' rest and that's not the norm."
Detwiler chuckled and told Riggleman not to worry, that he was fine. Detwiler's willingness coupled with the recent heavy load on the bullpen persuaded Riggleman to allow Detwiler more leeway.
The extra pitches did not translate into more innings. Detwiler needed 44 to escape the first, when he allowed two runs and one hit. Trouble began when Alcides Escobar ripped a grounder toward third base. With Ryan Zimmerman receiving a scheduled day off, Harris played third base for the first time since April 23. The ball skipped up on the second bounce and scooted past him into left field for an error.
"It was real tough," Harris said. "I thought it was a base hit."
Ryan Braun popped up to second for the second out, but Detwiler couldn't quell the threat. He walked consecutive Brewers to load the bases, and Jonathan Lucroy slapped an RBI single to right field. Prince Fielder scored on a wild pitch and the Brewers led 2-0. Worse for Detwiler, he had thrown 44 pitches.
"It's baseball," Detwiler said. "If I make better pitches, those errors wouldn't have cost me anything."
Once Detwiler settled in, he retired seven consecutive batters with only two balls leaving the infield. His fastball topped out at 92 mph, and he mixed in an effective change-up. Even after Lucroy singled to lead off the fourth, Detwiler struck out the next two hitters, Carlos Gómez and Joe Inglett. When pitcher Dave Bush grounded to short, Detwiler had seemingly cruised through the fourth.
Only Ian Desmond booted the ball. He picked it up and fired, but his rushed throw skipped under Dunn's attempt at a scoop. Lucroy scored, and Desmond had committed the 23rd error of his rookie season, eight more than any other major league player. Weeks followed with his home run, knocking Detwiler from the game and putting the Brewers ahead 5-0.
"I believe I'm 100 percent healthy right now," Detwiler said. "I don't think I had my best stuff today. I think that's going to get better with time."
Against Bush, the first 17 batters managed one hit -- a double by Josh Willingham -- with no walks and seven strikeouts. They struck in the sixth. Willingham's sacrifice fly and Dunn's RBI single gave them their first runs. Alberto González doubled to put men on second and third with two outs.
Iván Rodríguez pulverized a high fly ball, but the drive to right-center died at the warning track. By game's end, Rodríguez had extended his hitting slump since the all-star break to 2 for 31, both hits singles.
The Nationals added another run in the seventh, Nyjer Morgan's infield single scoring Adam Kennedy. They still had a chance until Casey McGehee blasted a three-run homer in the seventh off Joel Peralta, giving the Brewers another five-run lead.
Afterward, back in the majors, Detwiler mingled outside the clubhouse and spoke with his father before boarding the team bus. The Nationals limp back home, their road record 17-36.