NEW YORK — Like the Nationals' hopes of making the playoffs, Ross Detwiler's hopes of pitching again this season looked bleak a few weeks ago.
But just as the Nationals have crept their way back into the fringes of the pennant race, Detwiler has progressed enough in his rehab from a strained back to give himself a shot at returning to the mound before season's end.
"I'm not assuming I'm out of time," the left-hander said. "I'm still working to get back out there."
Detwiler took another important step towards that goal Wednesday afternoon when he threw a full bullpen session prior to the Nationals' game against the Mets at Citi Field. It's the second time he has thrown off a mound since landing on the disabled list July 4, and each time he has emerged feeling no effects of the back injury that has plagued him most of the season.
"He really felt good afterwards," manager Davey Johnson said. "His stuff was good. He's gonna take two days and do it again. ... It sounds like today was the best he's thrown."
Detwiler threw about 30 pitches on Wednesday, about 10 more than he threw over the weekend in Miami. Pitching coach Steve McCatty said the 27-year-old looked healthy and "threw the ball well," but noted his command wasn't as sharp as it would be had he been pitching the last two months.
Johnson said Detwiler likely will throw two more bullpen sessions — taking two days off between each session — and then face live hitters in a simulated game. If all goes according to plan, Detwiler could be game ready by the final week of the regular season.
Even in that scenario, though, Detwiler's arm wouldn't be built up enough to start, so he'd be used strictly as a reliever.
"We definitely don't want to rush him back," Johnson said. "We want to make sure he's 100 percent. We can't get him stretched out like a starter."
The Nationals' No. 5 starter to begin the season, Detwiler has made only 13 starts due to back and oblique strains. He's 2-7 with a 4.04 ERA.