Nationals hit four home runs but defense fails Detwiler in 8-4 loss to Diamondbacks

By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 6, 2010; 1:53 AM

PHOENIX - Leaders of the known universe in errors at the all-star break, the Washington Nationals, at least before Thursday night's unraveling, had committed only eight in the 19 games since. Their defense no longer exists as an impediment to their entire pitching staff. Instead, it has concentrated its worst moments for times when Ross Detwiler occupies the mound.

In the Nationals' 8-4 loss Thursday night to the Arizona Diamondbacks, Detwiler could not overcome the Nationals again reverting to their worst defensive form in one of his starts. Despite two home runs by Ryan Zimmerm and solo shots from Roger Bernadina and Adam Kennedy, the Nationals failed again to win their first series on the road since May 12 as they committed three crucial errors.

Though hurt by his defense, Detwiler could not be absolved for his role in an unsightly game. He allowed seven runs - four earned - on nine hits and two walks without recording an out past the fourth inning. He threw only 80 pitches before Manager Jim Riggleman trudged to the mound and asked for the ball, cutting short his third start since making his season debut.

"I don't feel like I've done well at all yet," Detwiler said. He is most concerned about the location of his pitches, especially his fastball. "It's at the belt," he said. "It's got to be at the knees."

Detwiler will watch video to validate his strong hunch, but he believes he has identified the mechanical flaw that forces his fastball too high. When his right foot lands in his delivery, he is not putting enough weight on it, not rotating with enough force. The glitch, he said, may be an after-effect of the right hip surgery he had back in the spring.

"Whether I'm subconsciously a little hesitant to put it over the leg I just had surgery, I don't know," Detwiler said. "But something has to change."

Detwiler has allowed 13 runs in his three starts, only five of them earned. The Nationals have yielded only 11 unearned runs since the all-star break. Eight of them have come with Detwiler on the mound. The defensive culprits Thursday were Adam Dunn and Zimmerman, who both booted groundballs that could have ended innings and instead led to runs.

"We need to clean that up," Zimmerman said. "It's just one game. It happens to everyone.

Still, Detwiler provided a weak argument to remain in the Nationals rotation. Undoubtedly, Detwiler, the sixth overall pick in 2007, is a fixture of Washington's future plans. But with Jason Marquis returning Sunday and Stephen Strasburg coming off the disabled list Tuesday, someone will have to make room. The influx of pitchers will continue later in the month when Yunesky Maya and Jordan Zimmermann make their debuts.

Detwiler seemingly solidified his spot when he redeemed a shaky debut by allowing the Philadelphia Phillies one run in 5 1/3 innings last weekend. On Thursday, the Diamondbacks battered him with nine hits, including two doubles, a triple and an RBI single by Arizona starter Barry Enright.

But then, who can say how his night would have ended had the Nationals not betrayed him in the field? In his first start, the Nationals also made two errors in the first inning alone, and he allowed five unearned runs.

"We've played so bad, and we've done that a couple times when he's pitched," Riggleman said. "It's really hard to get a read on how he's pitched. We just have not played good baseball when he's pitched. He's having to pitch out of trouble. He's pitching out of situations he shouldn't be having to pitch in.

"It's just really hard to get a decent read on how he's doing. The quality of his stuff seems good. But we're not giving him much of a chance."

In the second, Adam LaRoche led off with a double to center. Rusty Ryal followed with a weak grounder to first, a victory for Detwiler that should have settled the inning down. He struck out five in four innings; perhaps he could have mustered a punchout and kept LaRoche at third base.

But he never had the chance. Dunn came up to quickly on the groundball, allowing it to scoot under his glove and into right field. Dunn has made just six errors in his first season as a full-time first baseman, and before Thursday he had not committed one since July 8. This one, though, proved costly. LaRoche scored, and when Bobby Crosby followed with a double so did LaRoche.

"If I get another groundball right after an error, then we can get out of the inning," Detwiler said. "I was just giving up hits after errors, which hurts us even more."

Entering the fourth, the Nats trailed only 2-1 thanks to Zimmerman's first home run. Ryal led off with a single, but Detwiler dialed up a double play ball by Crosby. Zimmerman booted it, though, continuing the inning with no outs. Stephen Drew to score the first run of the inning.

With one out and men on second and third, the Diamondbacks handed Detwiler a gift. They called for a suicide squeeze with Enright at the plate. After he whiffed on the bunt try, the Nationals retired Crosby in a rundown. Suddenly, with two outs, all Detwiler needed to do was retire the opposing pitcher.

For the Nationals this year, that, oddly, has been a lot to ask. Enright singled through the middle, scoring Drew and giving the Diamondbacks a three-run lead.

The fifth inning spiraled out of control on Detwiler's own volition. The Diamondbacks opened the frame with three straight hits, including a leadoff triple by Kelly Johnson. All three runs would eventually score.

The ugliness didn't lapse once Detwiler exited. Collin Balester had recorded two outs by the time Enright came up again with two outs and a man on third. He struck out Enright on a curveball in the dirt, but the pitch trickled away from catcher Wil Nieves. He tracked it down and, instead of looking to first for the out that would have ended the inning, he glanced at home plate and did not throw.

Arizona had taken complete control of the game. Detwiler could only watch from the bench. His pitches may not have been good enough. His defense, for one night, definitely wasn't.

"It's one ballgame," Riggleman said. "I don't want to say the sky is falling. Too many nights like that early on put us where we are in the standings. We were making a lot of progress. But we took a step backwards tonight."

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