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Detwiler dominates to keep Nats alive

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Detwiler dominates to keep Nats alive

When Ross Detwiler took the mound on Thursday afternoon, he essentially held the Nationals’ 2012 season in his left hand. Three straight games the team’s starting pitching wasn’t what it had been all year, the offense had been putrid, and Stephen Strasburg’s name was starting to come up in the media.

Detwiler, after all, wouldn’t have been pitching Game 4 if Strasburg were on the roster.

It was a lot of pressure for a 26 year old in his first full season as a regular starting pitcher. He could have easily caved, but instead pitched six stellar innings allowing just three hits and zero earned runs to a scorching hot Cardinals lineup.

Veteran Jayson Werth, the eventual hero with his ninth inning walkoff homer, spoke proudly of the young lefty.

“Media can say whatever they want. We know the type of guy Ross is and what he brings to the team,” he said. “I said yesterday, I felt good about where we were at. I felt like Ross would handle business.”

“I tell you, I was so proud of him,” Davey Johnson said, still catching his breath from the season-saving win. “He was outstanding, unbelievable. Won the game for us.”

Within 30 minutes of Thursday’s game, Detwiler had already done something his fellow starters couldn’t do. Not the 21 game-winning Cy Young candidate, not the two-time finisher in the top ten of N.L. ERA leaders, not the World Series champion.

Detwiler had taken the Nats through two innings without a deficit, finally giving the searching Washington offense, and the sold out crowd, a chance to stay in the game.

“It was the only thing we could do,” Adam LaRoche said. “If he doesn’t, we go home.”

“We were in a bad situation having to win the next two games and we just made that a lot better.”

Once Detwiler got out of the top of the second, on a Daniel Descalso grounder to second, the 44,392 in attendance exploded at an instance before breathing a collective sigh of relief. It became clear that possibly, just maybe, this game would be different.

The energy carried on throughout the game and, because of the low scoring, was focused primarily on the Nationals’ pitching and defensive plays.

The Cardinals tied the game at one in the third, but the run wasn’t earned as the inning was extended by an error. After the third inning Detwiler never let a St. Louis player get past second base. As his wonderful start kept up, each third out brought an outburst from the crowd.

“You want to feed off that energy,” Detwiler said. “It was unbelievable. It is our first experience in the postseason, but we want to keep coming back for more.”

Detwiler pitched Thursday on ten days rest, a circumstance that had plagued his teammates earlier in the series. He was also coming off two of his worst starts of the entire season, including a seven-run (three earned), 2 1/3 inning debacle to the very same St. Louis Cardinals lineup he shut down on Thursday.

Somehow the team’s former sixth overall pick, who at times looked like he would never realize his potential, rose to the occasion with a spectacular postseason performance. For a first time playoff start, it was even more than the Nationals could ask for.

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Stock Watch: Harper, Zimmerman looking like themselves again

Stock Watch: Harper, Zimmerman looking like themselves again

Each week this season, we’ll take the temperature of the Nationals roster to see which player's stock is rising or falling.  

Record: 3-4

Team slash: .283/.359/.454

Team ERA: 5.79

Runs per game: 6.6 

 

STOCK UP 

Ryan Zimmerman, 1B: .375 AVG, HR, 1.014 OPS

Zimmerman announced his return from the disabled list with authority last weekend in Atlanta, hammering the first pitch he saw into left field for a solo home run. The blast was just the beginning; he’s 6-for-16 since he’s been back, getting solid contact even when he doesn’t get a hit. We’re talking about a very small sample size, of course, but a resurgent Zimmerman would mean wonders for the bottom of the Nats lineup.

Bryce Harper, RF: .357 AVG, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 1.026 OPS

Like Zimmerman, Harper’s going to have to be consistent for a little while longer before fans feel like he’s truly back to his old self. Still, the past week and a half have been a welcome sight for an offense that needs him to look like the reigning NL MVP. He’s posted multi-hit efforts in five out of his last 10 games, notching five extra-base hits over that span. For comparison, that’s the same amount of extra-base hits he had throughout the month of July.

Numbers aside, Harper has simply looked relaxed at the plate lately; he’s no longer chasing pitches out of the strike zone, instead reclaiming his patient approach. Even if he may not be able to completely salvage his season, a strong finish would be a huge boost for the Nats.    

STOCK DOWN 

Stephen Strasburg, SP: 1.2 IP, 9 ER, 15-day disabled list

Even if it’s a precautionary measure, there still has to be slight concern that Strasburg is headed to the disabled list with right elbow soreness. The 28-year-old right hander said Monday that his arm recovery between starts had been getting increasingly difficult, but the discomfort never affected him during his performances. Who knows if there was truly a correlation between the elbow issues and his recent 0-3 skid, but the Nats are hoping that time off will do him some good. With the postseason less than six weeks away, will Strasburg be fully rested and ready to go in October? 

Reynaldo Lopez, SP: 1-1, 4.66 ERA, 1.66 WHIP

While Lopez had two good outings recently, both of them were against the lowly Atlanta Braves. Against contenders like the San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers and Baltimore Orioles? He’s 0-2 with a 10.32 ERA. Granted, he’s still in the infancy of his major-league career, and was only inserted in the rotation because Joe Ross is out with injury. That said, with Strasburg also gone now, it’s up to the back end to create some semblance of stability for the next few weeks. 

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NL East: Phillies among MLB teams to scout Tim Tebow

NL East: Phillies among MLB teams to scout Tim Tebow

Most of Major League Baseball's 30 teams will have a scout in attendance at Tim Tebow's showcase workout on Aug. 30 in Los Angeles, and that list includes the Philadelphia Phillies.

That's according to CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury, who notes the practice will not be open to the public. Tebow, of course, spent time with the Philadelphia Eagles as part of his brief, but noteworthy NFL career.

Tebow has not played a real baseball game since 2005, when he was in high school. Tebow made All-State as a junior in the state of Florida, but since then has been all football. And despite being a quarterback who threw lefty, it sounds like he wants to be an outfielder in his return to baseball. 

Several minor league teams have already offered Tebow a roster spot, including the Waldorf, Md.-based Southern Maryland Blue Crabs. But it sounds like Tebow wants to show off his stuff in front of some MLB teams first.

[RELATED: Nats' defense making uncharacteristic mistakes]

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Nats' defense making uncharacteristic mistakes in recent games

Nats' defense making uncharacteristic mistakes in recent games

Despite having a 37-year-old left fielder, a second baseman with a troubled history in the field and, at times, a host of players learning new positions on the fly, the Nationals have not just been better than expected on defense this season, they have ranked among the top clubs in the majors. 

They are third in fielding percentage, sixth in efficiency rating and 10th in double plays. The Nats have committed the third-fewest errors this season and generally a team not known for beating themselves.

Lately, that has not been the case. In Tuesday night's 8-1 loss to the Orioles, the Nats saw Daniel Murphy - the second baseman referenced above - boot a groundball in the third inning that led to two runs.

That blunder wasn't the reason the Nats lost the game. It was, though, a continuation of a trend for the Nationals that has emerged during their road trip.

In their loss on Monday night, Bryce Harper bobbled a ball in right field that helped lead to a run. In Sunday's loss, the Nats committed five errors, their most in a game since July 15, 2011. In their win on Saturday, Wilmer Difo had an error that led to a run. And on Friday, the Nats had two errors lead to a pair of runs in the eighth inning alone. 

That's a lot of mistakes in a span of just six games, but manager Dusty Baker isn't ready to worry quite yet.

"It's a matter of timing," Baker said. "You get timing in hitting, timing in defense. Things go in streaks. You score a lot of runs in streaks and don't make errors for a long period of time. Then you make quite a few errors in a short period of time."

Murphy was more succinct in his assessment of the Nats' recent defensive woes.

“I’d say we’re not catching it, probably the easiest way to describe it," he said.

Murphy did, however, explain his own mistake on Tuesday night and how he believes it affected young starter Reynaldo Lopez, who made it only 2 2/3 innings, in part due to two unearned runs on the error.

"If I make that play right there, he gets a chance to go another inning, maybe settle into the ballgame. Unfortunately, I didn’t give him that chance tonight," Murphy said. "A six-run lead compared to a four-run lead is completely different, especially in this ballpark. Unfortunate he didn’t get a chance to go back out there and find his rhythm."

The Nats defensive skid has coincided with a tough time for their pitching staff. Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross are on the disabled list, leaving rookies to fill the void. And their bullpen has been beaten up by injuries, rain delays and a heavy workload. 

The last thing the Nats need right now is for their play in the field to exacerbate the problems in their pitching staff. Baker, again, is not concerned.

"Hopefully this is the end of it and we've gotten it out of our system," he said.

[RELATED: Nats fall on wrong side of three challenges by Orioles]

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