Detwiler matures into winner

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Detwiler matures into winner

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.

Nats' Baker on pitch counts: 'It's like the kid who climbs up in the tree'

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Nats' Baker on pitch counts: 'It's like the kid who climbs up in the tree'

Much is made about pitch counts in Major League Baseball these days with the advancement in how young pitchers are treated both throughout their youth and throughout their professional careers. And, it's no secret that Nationals manager Dusty Baker has been associated with overusing pitchers in the past, particularly during his time with the Chicago Cubs.

Despite him being a decade removed from having an office at Wrigley Field, the reputation has followed Baker. Some still invoke those days when he rides a Nationals pitcher past the 100 mark, a round number that has been synonymous with the limits of a pitching arm. 

In 28 of the Nationals' 45 games this season a pitcher has eclipsed the 100 mark. Max Scherzer has gotten there seven times out of his 10 starts. Stephen Strasburg has made it there in seven of his nine outings. Tanner Roark's done it six times, Gio Gonzalez five times and Joe Ross three times.

Baker understands the significance of 100 pitches in a game, but thinks it's also good to see how far a pitcher can go and still be effective.

"You're not going to find a guy's threshold unless you take him pretty close to that threshold," he said. 

"I do believe that you build a pitcher -- every time you take him out of trouble, it's like the kid who climbs up in the tree. He'll never learn how to get down unless you sometimes leave him up in that tree. And then he'll get hungry and he'll come down out of the tree. But if you send the fire department out to take him down from that tree, he'll never learn to get out of that tree."

Now, that's a colorful way of putting it, but for Baker, it really depends on several factors for when he pulls a pitcher.

"Matchups, score. I mean, the scoreboard dictates how much of everything. How he's fared against this guy. Does this guy have power, does he have speed, can I afford for him to get on base to start a rally, or can I afford for this other guy to get on base," he explained.

It also depends on the pitcher's history, Baker says. Scherzer, for instance, ranks third in baseball in total pitches thrown this season. But he's always near the top of the league, having placed seventh last year, third in 2014 and 12th in 2013. Scherzer has averaged at least 100 pitches per outing for eight straight years. 

Strasburg is averaging over 100 pitches for the first time in his career, but he's got 837 2/3 innings logged as a big leaguer. He's a 27-year-old who has pitched 200 innings in a season before. 

Like Strasburg, Roark and Gonzalez have logged plenty of innings throughout their careers and aren't young pitchers anymore. The one starter who could perhaps use some caretaking is Ross, who at 23 years old is by far the least experienced of the group. It's not a surprise to see he's reaching 100 at a lower rate than his counterparts.

And perhaps it's Ross in particular whom Baker needs to find out what he's made of.

"If you rescue them every time that they're in trouble, then they'll never know how to get out of trouble on their own," Baker said.

Strasburg, Harvey square off as Nats continue series against Mets

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Strasburg, Harvey square off as Nats continue series against Mets

Nats (27-18) vs. Mets (26-18) at Nationals Park

The Nationals and Mets are back at it on Tuesday night in their fifth matchup of the season so far, a rematch of last Thursday's showdown between star pitchers Stephen Strasburg (7-0, 2.80) and Matt Harvey (3-6, 5.77).

Strasburg got the better of their last meeting in a blowout Nationals win. It was such a bad start for Harvey - nine runs, six earned - that his availability for this game was at one point in question. Harvey, though, has decided to power through his recent struggles hoping to find his way on the mound and against a division rival.

For the Nationals, their lineup is as expected. For the Mets, David Wright is out with Ty Kelly in at third base. And Michael Conforto is in at left field instead of Yoenis Cespedes, who has moved over to center field to replace Juan Lagares.

First pitch: 7:05 p.m.
TV: MASN
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, XM 183
Starting pitchers: Nats - Stephen Strasburg vs. Mets - Matt Harvey

NATS

CF Ben Revere
LF Jayson Werth
RF Bryce Harper
2B Daniel Murphy
1B Ryan Zimmerman
3B Anthony Rendon
C Wilson Ramos
SS Danny Espinosa
RHP Stephen Strasburg

METS

RF Curtis Granderson
SS Asdrubal Cabrera
LF Michael Conforto
CF Yoenis Cespedes
2B Neil Walker
1B Eric Campbell
C Kevin Plawecki
3B Ty Kelly
RHP Matt Harvey

Follow along with GameView here

Bryce Harper continues to struggle with few pitches to hit

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Bryce Harper continues to struggle with few pitches to hit

Most of the players had left the Nationals' clubhouse. After a straight forward game where Gio Gonzalez' off night was the central storyline, the media needed another angle, someone else to talk to.

Manager Dusty Baker had gone into detail about the recent struggles of Bryce Harper, so he would do. And sure enough, in walked Bryce after an extended wait.

Harper, though, had not changed out of his uniform after the game, not after over 30 minutes had passed. He had batting gloves on and a bat in his hand. He was dripping sweat. It appeared that Harper had gone straight to the batting cage after the 7-1 loss to get in extra work after his second hitless game in a row, one that dropped his season batting average to .252. 

Harper gave no comment when asked about it as he took off his gloves, but spoke extensively about his approach and where he can go from here.

"Sometimes you get beat and it happens," Harper said. "I mean, I'm not going to change my approach for anybody. I go up there with the same approach every single day. If I get a pitch to drive, then I'm going to try to drive it."

Bartolo Colon was Harper's main adversary on this particular night. The Mets starter rebounded from his awful outing against the Nats the week before to go seven innings of one-run ball in Monday's 7-1 Nats loss. Against Colon, Harper flew out to left, lined out to the shortstop in the third and grounded out to second base in the sixth. He later grounded out in the eighth against Mets reliever Jerry Blevins.

"I thought I got good pitches to hit. I felt great up there, to tell you guys the truth. I don't feel like there's a problem at all. I just need to stay through the baseball. That's pretty much it," Harper surmised.

Harper is now 2-for-17 in his last four games and just 4-for-25 (.160) in his last eight. He's still getting about a walk per game, but few chances to swing at pitches in the strike zone.

Harper insists he's fine with how pitchers are treating him and prefers to focus on how he can adjust.

"I feel like I can walk 200 times this year if I wanted to, to tell you the truth," he said. "You have to understand that they're going to give me maybe one pitch a game or two pitches a game. If you don't do damage on it, then that's your fault. You try to go into every at-bat thinking they're going to throw a strike. If they don't, then try to take your walk and let the guys behind you do your job. I'm not doing the job of hitting that one pitch."

Harper currently leads the majors in walks and is on pace for 172 this season. Only Barry Bonds has eclipsed that mark in a single season before and he did it three times. Baker was Bonds' manager for two of those years and drew the comparison between Bonds and Harper again on Monday.

"You've got to remember. When I had Barry Bonds and walked 200 times, he was 32 years old. He was nine years older than Bryce. He learned to deal with it. How would Barry have dealt with it when he was 23 years old?"

"Barry had tremendous vision," Baker continued. "And Bryce has the same vision. Hank Aaron had the same vision. But let's not forget this guy is very young. He's a player that's still trying to master his skill."

Harper is being pitched differently than he was in 2015, but don't forget he was batting just .245 on May 6 before he took off and won the MVP with a .330 average. It won't be easy, but the 23-year-old has shown he can make adjustments to turn his season around.