Quick Links

Detwiler matures into winner

834159.png

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.

Quick Links

Nationals Ace Max Scherzer will not be team's opening day starter

Nationals Ace Max Scherzer will not be team's opening day starter

Nationals manager Dusty Baker said that Max Scherzer is not on track to be the team's opening day starter, and will most likely open the season as the third pitcher in the rotation. 

Scherzer has been the team's starter on opening day for the past two seasons, but a stress fracture in the knuckle of his right ring finger caused him to miss the start of spring training, and the World Baseball Classic. 

Scherzer did, however, make his first MLB spring training start of 2017 on Wednesday. The 2016 NL Cy Young award winner allowed two earned runs on five hits over 4.2 innings. He added four strikeouts and one walk, and reportedly looked just like you would expect from Max Scherzer. 

"To be out there competing, throwing all my pitches, throwing them for strikes, that's a great first outing," Scherzer told Eddie Matz of ESPN after the game. "Finger's good. Finger feels like a finger. I'm getting through that injury. It's behind me now."

With Scherzer set to open the season as the third starter in the rotation, that likely means that Stephen Strasburg will start on opening day against the Miami Marlins, and Tanner Roark will slot in behind him. 

While it's nice to have your ace pitcher starting on opening day, it's not a huge deal to have Scherzer start the season third in the rotation, especially because the Nationals starting rotation is the strength of the team

RELATED: Nationals' Tanner Roark pitches four scoreless innings to help Team USA beat Japan in WBC

Quick Links

Nationals' Tanner Roark pitches 4 scoreless innings in US defeat of Japan in WBC

Nationals' Tanner Roark pitches 4 scoreless innings in US defeat of Japan in WBC

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Luke Gregerson's final strike breezed past Nobuhiro Matsuda, and the rain-drenched American players celebrated on the field while a soaked crowd roared through the evening mist.

A daylong downpour couldn't dampen this resilient United States club or its fans, who will finally get to root for the home team in a World Baseball Classic championship game.

Brandon Crawford scored the tiebreaking run when Matsuda bobbled Adam Jones' grounder to third in the eighth inning, and the United States reached the WBC final for the first time by beating Japan 2-1 on Tuesday night at rainy Dodger Stadium.

Andrew McCutchen drove in an early run for the U.S., which will play Puerto Rico for the title Wednesday night. Puerto Rico edged the Netherlands 4-3 in 11 innings Monday.

"It means a heck of a lot," said McCutchen, the Pittsburgh Pirates slugger. "We've got a great group of guys on this team who have dedicated this time to be able to try and win some ballgames. Sacrifices had to be made, and there are no egos when that door opens. That's what's good about this team. Everybody is a superstar on this team. There are no egos."

The World Baseball Classic final has been played in the United States in each of its four editions, but the home team had never been able to play America's pastime on what has become its biggest international stage. The U.S. only reached the semifinals once before, in 2009.

While manager Jim Leyland's current roster is missing Clayton Kershaw, Mike Trout and many other American superstars, the All-Star-laden group that decided to participate has won two straight elimination games to earn a chance for the U.S.' first crown.

"Coming into this event, I didn't really want to talk about the fact that the United States has never won it (and) they've never gone to the finals," Leyland said. "I didn't think that was a big deal. I wanted this, for the players, to be a memory. I've talked a lot about it. Make a memory. Hopefully it's a real good one, regardless of the results (Wednesday). I know it is for me. It's been an absolute honor."

To reach the final, the Americans had to persevere through an uncharacteristic Los Angeles rain that drenched the playing field several hours before game time. They also had to beat a gifted Japanese team at its own game: pitching, defense and small ball.

Ryosuke Kikuchi hit a tying homer off reliever Nate Jones in the sixth inning for Japan, but the two-time WBC champions were twice let down by their normally sturdy defense.

McCutchen opened the scoring with an RBI single in the fourth moments after Kikuchi's two-base error at second. In the eighth, Crawford likely would have been out at the plate on Jones' innocent grounder, but Matsuda didn't field it cleanly and had to throw to first.

"Well, two plays," Japan manager Hiroki Kokubo said through a translator. "Honestly, there were some mistakes, and then a run was scored. ... The team that makes mistakes will lose. That's what it means. I cannot blame them, though, for doing that."

Japan won the first two WBC tournaments before losing in the 2013 semifinals, and Kokubo's current team was unbeaten in this event.

"The players really did their very best," Kokubo said. "I really appreciate it. It's do-or-die, one semifinal."

Tanner Roark pitched four scoreless innings of two-hit ball before Leyland pulled him on the instructions of the Washington Nationals, who limited Roark to 50 pitches because he hadn't faced live hitters in nine days.

"I felt good enough to stay out there," Roark said.

Gregerson, the Americans' sixth reliever, worked a perfect ninth inning after Pat Neshek escaped a two-on jam in the eighth.

Leyland is confident he'll have a capable bullpen Wednesday after receiving texts from various pitching coaches around the majors on the status of their players. Toronto's Marcus Stroman, the starter, is free to reach the WBC's 95-pitch limit, Leyland confirmed.

Although the crowd of 33,462 strongly favored the team with five California natives in the starting lineup, thousands of Japanese fans showed up early and chanted throughout the game, accompanied by the brass band in the left-field bleachers.

Tomoyuki Sugano, the Yomiuri Giants ace with a seven-pitch repertoire, tossed six innings of three-hit ball for Japan, striking out six and yielding only one unearned run.

But Sugano was matched by Roark, who gave up just two singles and a walk in his four innings, also hitting a batter with a pitch.

After Christian Yelich reached second in the fourth inning when his hard-hit grounder was mishandled by Kikuchi, the standout defensive second baseman, Eric Hosmer worked out of an 0-2 count to draw a two-out walk.

McCutchen had just two hits in his first 14 at-bats in the WBC, but he drove in Yelich with a sharp single to left.

Kikuchi made up for his mistake in the sixth, driving Jones' fastball barely over the reach of McCutchen in right field for his first homer of the tournament.

Japan reliever Kodai Senga struck out the first four batters he faced with a 96 mph fastball and exceptional off-speed stuff, but Crawford then delivered a sharp single before Ian Kinsler doubled to deep left-center.

Neshek got cleanup hitter Yoshimoto Tsutsugoh on a fly to right to end the eighth.