Detwiler Helps Keep Nats Alive

WASHINGTON—Before the Nationals could extend their season with a walk-off win, they needed Ross Detwiler to be spot-on.

The 26-year-old lefthander delivered by throwing six innings against the Cardinals on Thursday without allowing an earned run. Three innings later, Jayson Werth gave the city of Washington its first postseason home win since the 1933 World Series when he homered to end a 13-pitch at-bat against Lance Lynn.

The Nationals' 2-1 win in Game Four of their NLDS set up Friday night's winner-take-all matchup between 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez and St. Louis mainstay Adam Wainwright. Washington still has a chance to face San Francisco in the NLCS because of the man who replaced Stephen Strasburg in the four-man postseason rotation once the ace was shut down to end his first full season after Tommy John surgery.

"I tried to look at it as another game," Detwiler said afterward. "I felt like I really had something to prove, especially after the last start against them."

Detwiler managed to stay poised in his playoff debut despite having been hit hard by the reigning World Series champions on Sept. 30. It's no wonder ex-general manger Jim Bowden said on draft day 2007 that he envisioned Detwiler pitching key games in postseasons to come.

"I tell you, I was so proud of (Detwiler)," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said Thursday. "He pitched. He didn't start the game overthrowing. He pitched. He used his fastball in crucial spots, he used his changeup for a good strike. Used his curveball, went in and out. He was just totally under control against a good-hitting ballclub."

Detwiler, picked sixth overall in '07 out of Missouri State, was not an overnight sensation in pro ball. He pitched one major league inning in his draft year, but his call-up that season was stipulated in his contract. It took a while for him to get back and make an impact.

Before finding a pitching motion that works for him, Detwiler went through his share of struggles. He threw across his body at Missouri State and at Wentzville (Mo.) Holt High, but that has become less pronounced after his work with Nationals' pitching coaches and through repeating his mechanics in front of a mirror.

During the process, Detwiler needed hip surgery that set him back in 2010, when he made five major league starts in eight appearances and was 1-3, 4.25 in 30 innings. That was a step up from his 1-6, 5.00 numbers in 76 innings for 2009 Nationals, who lost 103 games.

Detwiler went 4-5, 3.00 in 60 innings for Washington last year before beating out the team's top winner from a year ago, John Lannan, for the No. 5 spot in the rotation out of spring training. Given that opportunity, he went 10-8, 3.40 with 105 strikeouts and 52 walks in 164 innings.

Those 2012 statistics would have been a bit better had he not allowed seven runs (three earned) in 2 1/3 innings at St. Louis in his final start. Facing the same team—the one he grew up rooting for—he dealt on Thursday, allowing only three hits and an unearned run before Jordan Zimmermann, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen each pitched a dominant inning of relief.

"I think it was after the fifth inning, I (told him), if there's a runner in scoring position, I'll hit for you," Johnson said of the possibility of hitting for Detwiler, who threw a career-high 104 pitches and left two runners stranded in the sixth. "If not, you're going back out there. He was good with that. But he made his pitches when he had to."

Just like with 2007 and 2009 minor league teammate Ian Desmond, the time to develop has proved well worth it. The 27-year-old shortstop Desmond, who is listed immediately before Detwiler in Baseball America's Super Register of all active players in the minors and majors, was chosen for the All-Star Game this year and is 7-for-15 in the series.

Both players took a while to develop. But the Nationals are glad they waited.