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Nats' season rests on Detwiler's arm

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Nats' season rests on Detwiler's arm

For a club that relied so much on its deep starting rotation for six months, it's perhaps appropriate that the Nationals' season now rests on the left arm of the young man who best represented the organization's pitching depth.

Ross Detwiler wasn't projected to make the Nationals' rotation out of spring training, and even after earning the fifth starter's job on Opening Day, he still was bumped to the bullpen in May after Chien-Ming Wang returned from a hamstring injury.

Along the way, though, Detwiler proved his worth to the Nationals and proved himself a quality big-league starter during a breakthrough season that saw him go 10-8 while posting a 3.40 ERA.

That season-long performance earned Detwiler a spot in the Nationals' postseason rotation, and now it's earned him the right to start a win-or-else Game 4 for his team.

"He has really come a long way," manager Davey Johnson said. "I've seen him pitch some great ballgames. You know, he's got outstanding stuff, and he's got good poise. I have never seen him get really rattled by the situation."

That might be wishful thinking on Johnson's part, because Detwiler certainly appeared rattled the last time he pitched. Given the ball 11 days ago in St. Louis to face the same lineup he'll go up against this afternoon, the 26-year-old lefty seemed to wilt under the weight of the moment.

With a chance to clinch the NL East title for the Nationals, Detwiler lasted only 2 1/3 innings, giving up seven runs (three earned) while walking five.

"I try not to remember that one," he joked yesterday morning, prior to Game 3.

Detwiler will need to recall at least some details of that sub-par outing, lest he make the same mistakes against the Cardinals.

"The scouting report is still fresh in my mind," he said. "It's my last start and the last hitters I saw. I'll know how to attack them and how I want to do it."

The key for Detwiler, as it has been so often this season: Go right after hitters and get ahead in the count, then start mixing and matching his offspeed stuff with his fastball.

One aspect in Detwiler's favor: He'll be pitching in the familiar and comfortable surroundings of Nationals Park, where he went 8-2 with a 2.59 ERA this season. On the road, he was 2-6 with a 4.38 ERA.

Detwiler doesn't know why precisely his home/road splits have been so dramatic, but he admits there's a comfort level pitching in Washington.

"I think it's just a routine thing," he said. "I'm able to get in the routine here. I have my places I go before starts at home. Obviously on the road, you're in a different city, so you can't do that. Hopefully that's what it is, and I'll go about that tomorrow."

If not, Detwiler and the Nationals might have all winter to think about it.

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Nationals' Bryce Harper mashes monster homer on second pitch of spring training

Nationals' Bryce Harper mashes monster homer on second pitch of spring training

The Nationals played their first game of spring training today against the Mets. They won, but that's not nearly the biggest story of the day. It was Bryce Harper's first at-bat that stole the show. 

On just the second pitch he saw of spring training, from lefty Sean Gilmartin, Harper mashed a ginormous home run to right center field. MLB.com shared video of the bomb. 

According to Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post, Harper smacked the ball at least 400 feet. In his second at-bat, he hit a line-drive single on the first pitch. 

Let's just say it was an exciting start to the year for Harper, who won the 2015 NL MVP only to endure a let-down last season. As Castillo points out, the slugger hit .226 against left-handed pitchers in 2016. 

Harper enters spring training at 230 pounds, up 15 pounds of muscle from last year. 

“I just felt going into the offseason you want to get as strong as you can, try to maintain your weight the best you can and just do everything the right way,” he told the Post. 

MORE NATIONALS: Baker thinks DC sports teams can win a championship this year

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Nationals' Dusty Baker thinks Washington teams are positioned to win a championship this year

Nationals' Dusty Baker thinks Washington teams are positioned to win a championship this year

Nationals manager Dusty Baker is back for a second year and feeling optimistic for his Washington team. Spring training has begun in Florida and it has Baker thinking about how the Nats can create some excitement for local sports fans.

In an interview with American University’s WAMU radio station, Baker said D.C. wants to be a "city of champions.” Furthermore, he thinks it can be pulled off before the year ends.

"I came here to win a championship and you know I would love nothing more than to bring one to Washington. Washington, I didn’t know it before I got there, but it’s had a tough time getting out of the first round in a number of sports."

He projected the Nationals to bring home the next championship for the District, but he knows they have competition of late. 

"Washington Wizards are looking pretty good. I’m pulling for them first because their season ends before ours, so I’ve been really following them. The Capitals have a good thing going. I started watching the Redskins more this year.

"You know once it gets contagious in a city and you get a positive attitude throughout the city, then it transfers to the sports teams. So we want to be known as a city of champions, before the end of the year hopefully."

Baker has a reputation for bringing out the best in his teams, especially managing star players. He managed the San Francisco Giants for ten seasons before moving on to the Chicago Cubs, a team he managed for four seasons.

He's never won a World Series, but has taken a team to Game 7. He also finished third for the 2016 National League Manager of the Year award.

So, what are Baker’s steps for the Nationals to get that ultimate prize? A simple formula, really.

"I think that we’ve got to stay healthy, number one. We’re trying to fill the holes that we need to fill, and we’ve got to play," he said. "You know last year we were very close, we were one hit away or one play away or one pitch away from going to the next round against the Cubs."

While he says he came to win Washington a championship, he's also enjoying his time in the city. 

"I love D.C. Before that, San Francisco was my favorite town; that’s my home. But I tell you, D.C. is definitely in the running," he said. "I thought San Francisco had the best seafood, but man, you guys have the best seafood I think in the world."

Thanks, Dusty!

The Nationals play their first spring training game against the New York mets on Saturday.

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