In a season filled with inconsistency from night to night, the one relative constant for the Nationals has been their bullpen. Their 2.11 ERA is best among MLB relief units, they are balanced left to right, and they have veteran experience.
The one exception, though, has been Ross Detwiler. For whatever reason, the former sixth overall pick and 2012 standout has been anything but reliable.
In Thursday's 3-1 loss to the Pirates, Detwiler's unfortunate 2014 season continued. He allowed a run in the eighth inning on a Josh Harrison single, his third consecutive outing surrendering a score. Detwiler has now given up 13 earned runs in his last eight appearances, a stretch of 10 innings.
The 13 earned in eight games comes after he began the year with seven scoreless outings. After finishing April with a 1.84 ERA, he now holds a 5.24 mark through 15 appearances.
Given Detwiler's recent stretch, it's remarkable how the Nationals still rank atop the majors in bullpen ERA. If you took his 13 earned runs in 22 1/3 total innings out of the equation, they would hold a 1.60 ERA as a unit. For comparison, only Jeff Samardzija has a better mark among qualifying MLB starting pitchers. Craig Kimbrel, well established as one of the game's best relievers, holds a 1.44 ERA over his career.
Now, to be fair, Detwiler wasn't the reason the Nationals lost on Thursday night. The run he allowed was merely insurance. They stranded 10 runners on base and only scored one run thanks to Ian Desmond's club-leading eighth home run.
Offense continues to be the Nationals' biggest problem in the month of May, and Detwiler can do nothing to change that. The Nationals' one run on Thursday gives them a total of 60 through 19 games (3.16 per game) this month. Only the Reds have been worse.
Overall the Nats have been outscored by opponents 74-60 in May. They have much bigger problems right now than one struggling reliever, that's for sure. But it is still concerning to watch a guy who was so good just two years ago continue to falter in the manner he has.