It wasn't all that long ago -- really, it might have only been two months -- when Ross Detwiler was best known for putting together four or five quality innings and then fizzling out and turning what could have been a dominant start into a pedestrian outing.
But a funny thing has happened since the 26-year-old lefty rejoined the Nationals rotation five weeks ago. Confident at last in his abilities, secure with his spot on the team, he's taken an important step forward as a big-league pitcher.
These days, Detwiler isn't fizzling out the deeper he goes. He's getting stronger, a trait that was very much on display Thursday night during a 3-0 victory over the Phillies.
"It's a slow process, and you build on positive outings," manager Davey Johnson said. "And he's had a lot of positive outings. He's grown a lot."
The results certainly confirm that. With seven more scoreless innings in this game, Detwiler now boasts a 2.55 ERA in seven starts since rejoining the Nationals' rotation.
And he's putting less pressure on his bullpen to finish what he begins. Detwiler has now made 45 starts in the major leagues. He's only reached the seventh inning eight times, but four of those have come in the last month alone.
"At the end, he's giving me that extra inning," Johnson said. "He used to -- after he'd thrown about 80 pitches or something -- had trouble going that extra mile. He tried to do too much instead of just staying within himself. Tonight he was just the same guy all the way through the seventh inning. And it's fun to watch."
Making this game all the more fun for a crowd of 28,825 to watch: The sight of Jayson Werth patrolling the outfield at Nationals Park for the first time since May 6, plus the sight of Adam LaRoche rounding the bases following his 20th home run of the season.
Werth, who was originally expected to come off the disabled list Friday, bumped his return up a day after a two-hit showing at Class A Potomac. As a result, he found himself in familiar territory, facing the same opponent (his former club) and same pitcher (Cole Hamels) from the night he broke his left wrist.
"It was just a coincidence," he insisted. "I felt like I was ready. I didn't really see what the point was to continue to play games in the minor leagues. I wasn't getting a whole lot out of it."
Werth looked perfectly ready to face big-league pitching, going 1-for-3 with a walk and an RBI groundout. The guy hitting in front of him, though, put on the bigger show at the plate.
While nearly every other member of the Nationals lineup has succumbed to injury at some point this season, LaRoche has been a steadying force. His second-deck blast in the bottom of the second inning was his 20th homer of the season, tops on the club. And with a run-scoring single one inning later, LaRoche added his team-best 64th RBI, further erasing the sour memories of his injury-plagued 2011.
"It feels like last year is a distant memory now," he said.
"He's been a constant all year long," Johnson added. "He's got big hits when Ryan Zimmerman was down, Michael Morse was down. He's the guy that carried us through it, him and Ian Desmond. He's the glue in the infield. He goes a lot of times unnoticed, but not by me."
Staked to the three early runs driven in by LaRoche and Werth, Detwiler took his game to a new level. After laboring a bit early on, putting six guys on base through three innings, he proceeded to retire the last 14 Phillies he faced, completing the seventh inning with his pitch count at a scant 88.
It was merely the latest example of Detwiler's growth as a big-league starter, which he attributes to the confidence he now exudes knowing his role on a first-place club.
"It's just falling into a routine," he said. "That's when I get comfortable: When I can fall into my routine. I know I'm going to be here starting now, so it makes it a little easier."
Detwiler figures to be an important part of the Nationals' rotation straight through September, and perhaps beyond. He actually boasts a lower ERA (3.02) than Stephen Strasburg (3.12), Gio Gonzalez (3.27) and Edwin Jackson (3.57). Only Jordan Zimmermann (2.28) has outperformed him in that regard.
Zimmermann, of course, was just named NL Pitcher of the Month for July, joining Strasburg and Gonzalez as members of the Nationals rotation to earn such honors this season.
If he manages to keep this up, Detwiler might just thrust himself into the conversation for next month's award.
"I've got to beat Edwin to the punch, then," he said with a laugh.