Wednesday night in Baltimore, Ross Detwiler entered in the ninth inning to protect a four-run lead. He moved ahead, 0-2, on J.J. Hardy, the first batter he faced. On Detwiler’s third pitch, Hardy grounded out to third base. In the dugout, pitching coach Steve McCatty’s jaw dropped. He turned to bench coach Randy Knorr. “He’s throwing a split!” McCatty said. “He’s throwing it tonight!”
Detwiler had used the occasion to unveil his splitter, a new pitch that he had started practicing for only two days earlier. McCatty had taught Detwiler the grip and knew he was tinkering; he just didn’t think Detwiler was ready to use it in a game. Catcher Wilson Ramos did not even know Detwiler had started throwing a splitter until he told him on the mound as he entered from the bullpen.
“You start talking about weird things out there [in the bullpen], trying new things,” Detwiler said. “I just brought it into a game. I figured I’d try something new.”
Wednesday provided Detwiler an ideal opportunity. “I don’t think I’d do it with a runner on third in a one-run game,” Detwiler said. He also used the splitter to retire Manny Machado on a grounder to first base. He threw a third splitter to Delmon Young, who took it for a ball.
Saturday night, Detwiler didn’t throw any splitters as he mowed through Grady Sizemore, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley without letting a ball leave the infield. The clean inning earned Detwiler his first win this season, and he seems to be gaining comfort in pitching in relief. In his first 22 1/3 innings this season, he posted a 5.24 ERA. In his past 17 innings, which dates from the end of May, Detwiler has a 2.12 ERA while holding opponents to a .186 average.
And he’s now adding another weapon to his fastball-heavy arsenal. Detwiler first toyed with a sinker only Monday. He had never before considered using the pitch, which is thrown like a fastball with an extra-wide grip and tumbles as it travels to the plate. Tyler Clippard – whose own splitter has become a devastating weapon – suggested to Detwiler that his arm slot would be perfect for the splitter.
Detwiler feels like the splitter will provide a change of speed compared to his fastball, which he rarely strays from. Detwiler’s curveball has vacillated from excellent to unusable over the past few seasons, and the splitter may give him another option. He views it as a variant to the fastball, as opposed to a brand new offspeed pitch. But it will still force hitters to worry about another pitch.
Detwiler threw three splitters Wednesday night, and he plans on continuing to hone the pitch and using it in games.
“I don’t see why not,” Detwiler said.
“If it works, go ahead,” McCatty said. “Pretty cool.”