For fans, the decline of the team over the past month has opened up opportunities to see glimpses of the future. The trade of Jason Marquis opened up an immediate roster spot and it filled for the night rather ably by Yunesky Maya. Unfortunately for Maya, his excellent start was shortened by a slight injury, which led to his demotion and subsequently he got rocked in his next AAA start. Despite having former starter Tom Gorzelanny in the bullpen, manager Davey Johnson seems to have inserted 2007 first rounder and relative disappointment-thus-far-in-his-career Ross Detwiler into Marquis’ spot. His first start upon his return was on Thursday August 4th against the Rockies in Denver (box/gamer). How’d he look?
Detwiler took the loss, pitching 5 complete innings. He gave up 5 hits, 3 walks, threw 68 pitches (only 38 of which were for strikes) with one strikeout. Interestingly, he got 9 ground-ball outs versus just two fly-ball outs (both of which happened in the 5th, his last inning) and it took the Rockies until the fourth inning to even get a hit. Detwiler didn’t necessarily seem to be keeping the ball down, but the Rockies were continually driving the ball into the ground. This is definitely a good sign. Has the team convinced him to pitch to contact more, and try to strike out fewer batters? Because that seems to be his strategy.
So, after starting so well, what happened? The Rockies hitters started squaring up his fastballs, most of which he was missing and hitting too much of the plate, and hit a series of solid line drives towards the end of the 4th and throughout the 5th. Troy Tulowitzki had an excellent piece of hitting, driving an outside fastball to right field to give the Rockies two baserunners, and Ty Wiggington nailed a liner up the middle to score the first run. Jayson Werth threw out a runner at the plate on the next single, saving Detwiler another run. Desmond caught a screamer for the 3rd out of the inning, but the Rockies had hit the last 4 balls on the nose. This trend continued into the 5th with Iannetta‘s leadoff double, a gapper to left center, followed (after a sac bunt) by another line-drive up the middle to eventually score him. Detwiler got the last two outs on his only two fly balls (including a 410-foot drive to center from Todd Helton chased down by Ankiel), but Johnson had clearly seen enough. The third time through the lineup is always tough to get through, even for good pitchers, but clearly the Rockies leading hitters were getting to Detwiler. Johnson pinch hit for him in the top of the 6th and his night was done, despite only sitting on 68 pitches.
Relievers Balester and Mattheus each leaked in runs to allow Colorado to maintain its lead, the Nats were never really able to get to opposing starter Rogers (despite making him throw 30 pitches in the first), and Detwiler got tagged with the loss.
His arm-action has always seemed easy, and this night was no different. He seems to be throwing effortlessly, and his release point seems to be a bit higher than the last time he featured in the majors. This is a good thing; too much side-arm action means his curves move too horizontally to be effective. On the night he wasn’t quite throwing as hard as we’ve come to expect: he averaged 91.9 on his fastball and humped it up to the 94.4 range on three different occasions (he can hit 95, as evidenced in his 7/5 start), more evidence that he’s working on command instead of power. He only seems to have 3 pitches; slightly concerning for a “prospect” with his experience. Fastballs that don’t seem to move much (pitch f/x calls them sinkers, but I don’t see a lot of sink), plus a change-up that he commands pretty well, and a curve that he clearly doesn’t trust (only throwing it twice all night). In my opinion, major league starters need 4 pitches to survive, unless one of your pitches is such a lights out pitch with movement that you don’t need to develop secondary pitches). Why doesn’t Detwiler have a cutter or a slider at this stage of his career? In his only other start this season (July 5th against the Cubs), pitch f/x reveals similar pitch classifications.
Caveat: Colorado is a tough place to throw, so we need more starts to see what he really has. Curves don’t move as much in the thin air and pitchers have a hard time keeping their hands moist enough to maintain their grips. Plus conditioning really comes into play.
Conclusions: given the caveat, there is reason to be concerned about Detwiler’s future as a starter. Is he really a two-pitch starter without a fastball with good movement? If so, he’s destined for a reliever role. The Nats clearly have a lot invested in the guy (first rounder, lots of bonus money) and he’s gotten a lot of chances and a lot of looks. But I wonder where his long-term place is for this team. Facing an options issue in the spring of 2012 (he’s out of them, thanks in part to Bowden’s ill-advised 2007 call-up), I’m guessing he may be eventually converted to relief.