Rafael Soriano. (Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post)

Ross Detwiler took the mound for the third time this spring on Thursday against the New York Mets and was stretched further than he had to this point. The left-handed starter fired 68 pitches through 3 2/3 innings and allowed one run on three hits, walking one and striking out two in a 7-5 loss. It was another opportunity for Detwiler to mix in more breaking balls and, hopefully, build more confidence in them.

Although Detwiler didn’t think his curveball was all that sharp on Thursday, he was pleased with his feel for his change-up. He occasionally threw cutters, too, which he said was simply his four-seam fastball breaking late toward right-handers. These spring starts have given Detwiler the chance to read hitters’ reactions to his previously lesser-used pitches.

“The biggest thing is it’s making the fastball better just because they can’t sit there and sit on fastball the whole time,” he said. “I’m seeing it more when I get in good counts, when I’m ahead in the count. Then I can do a lot more. Being behind in the count, then I’m back to square one throwing a lot of fastballs because the confidence isn’t completely there in the off-speed. It’s shown itself a little bit. There’s a couple more starts left, and that’s one thing that I think I’m gonna come out of spring feeling a lot better about my off-speed than I have in the past.”

Manager Matt Williams said he was happy with Detwiler overall, but specifically that he threw inside to right-handed batters on Thursday and again used breaking balls often.

“It’s part of what he has to do,” he said. “He continued to work on his breaking ball and throwing that behind in counts, which is good. And opened up the inside part of the plate, which is good to see.”

This is the most Detwiler has thrown since last July, when he landed on the disabled list for his back. He said he is happy with his progression so far, but it has been weird taking the mound so often so many times in a row. “It’s way too much time off,” he said.

With camp set to break in two weeks, Detwiler isn’t concerning himself with where he stands in the race for the fifth starter’s spot. He said the topic is fodder for those outside the clubhouse.

“If I go out there and throw well and I feel good coming out of it, then I think I’ll have a good chance at whatever I’m supposed to do,” he said. “And if I don’t, then I don’t deserve it.”

>>> Although it is only spring training, Rafael Soriano entered Thursday’s game with lackluster results. He had allowed seven runs on eight hits over 1 2/3 innings. Against the Mets, Soriano faced big league hitters and rose to the occasion with a dominant inning. He got Daniel Murphy to ground out to second base, made David Wright look helpless with a called strikeout and got Curtis Granderson to weakly pop out to third base.

Soriano said earlier in the week that he doesn’t put much stock into spring training results and the early runs allowed didn’t bother him. Williams, too, echoed the same sentiment. After Thursday’s outing, Williams was encouraged by Soriano’s improved fastball.

“A little better arm strength which is typical of late-inning guys,” Williams said. “I think [Tyler Clippard] had a better fastball [Thursday], too. That’s pretty typical of those late-inning guys who are not necessarily on regular work like everybody else. I expect it to continue, too.”

Clippard fired a scoreless inning, too, and has allowed only four baserunners over four scoreless innings this spring.

>>> Adam LaRoche went 3 for 3, scored a run and, yes, stole a base. LaRoche has 10 career stolen bases over his 10-year career, four of them last season. One of Williams’s heavily used directives this spring has been “aggressive baserunning,” but it’s also a matter of being opportunistic. With Daisuke Matsuzaka starting for the Mets, one of the slowest working pitchers in baseball, the Nationals were alert. Denard Span, who went 1 for 3, stole his third base of the spring. And LaRoche swiped his first.

“It’s no different than any other team,” Williams said. “But if the opportunity presents itself then we want to take a hard look at it and then advance a base. I thought it was really good. And it’s going to continue to be the motto.”

Two players who had down years last season are hitting well so far: LaRoche is 8 for 23 (.348) and Span is 10 for 24 (.417).