Ross Detwiler did not have to be prompted. After his spring training start this afternoon, which came against a stacked Braves lineup and doubled as a World Baseball Classic tuneup, one figure stuck out on his mind: He had thrown first-pitch strikes to 8 of 14 hitters.
It was his main focus today, as he allowed two runs in 2 2/3 innings of a 9-5 loss after an hour-plus rain delay, with each Upton brother knocking in an RBI single in the third inning. Detwiler struck out Jason Heyward admiring a curveball and walked none. All five hits he allowed were singles. He used eight off-speed offerings in his 41 pitches, and his fastball hummed between 88 and 92 mph.
Through the start, he kept attention on how he started at-bats. He has always concentrated on it, but “I just kind of sucked at it the last few years,” Detwiler said.
Last year, Detwiler threw a first-pitch strike to 60.5 percent of the batters he faced, which ranked 53rd out of 88 qualified major league starters. The difference between ball and strike on the first pitch of an at-bat made an even more drastic difference for Detwiler than the league average. After he went to 1-0, opposing batters hit .259/.377/.464. When Detwiler got ahead, he was effectively unhittable – the league hit .199/.227/.303 with 80 strikeouts and nine walks.
Getting the first pitch over is an obvious strategy, but it’s a wise thing for Detwiler to lend extra concentration to. He also wants to use more four-seam fastballs, curveballs and change-ups early in counts in order to throw hitters off the timing of his best pitch, his sinker.
Today, he implemented it against a Braves lineup that came close to the real thing. Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Freddie Freeman, B.J. Upton, Dan Uggla and Juan Francisco all populated the starting lineup.
“I could have been embarrassed pretty easy,” Detwiler said. “I think this helped me out, seeing a lot of their top guys. It makes you focus on keeping the ball down, because every one of them can hit the ball a mile.”
“It lets him know where he’s at,” Manager Davey Johnson said.
Detwiler will make only one more start before he leaves for Arizona to join Team USA, another reason he was glad to see a potent lineup. “It’s going to be a short road until I’m in the WBC, so I’m pretty happy to face those hitters,” Detwiler said. “They get an extra look at me, though. That’s a pretty good lineup.”