The battle for the fifth spot in the starting rotation became a little clearer Monday afternoon, when manager Matt Williams announced that Ross Detwiler is no longer a part of the competition. Detwiler, the favorite to earn the spot going into spring training, will start the 2014 season in the bullpen.
While the decision was not yet official, speculation about a potential move to the bullpen for Detwiler had been growing stronger since the Nationals made it known that Detwiler would pitch an inning of relief in Wednesday’s game against the Astros, with Taylor Jordan getting the start. This late in the spring, starters and potential starters are usually throwing four innings or more each game as they try to build arm strength for the regular season. The fact that Detwiler was going to pitch in relief and that Jordan (who is also competing for the fifth spot in the rotation) was getting the start, was a strong hint that Williams had already made his decision.
Just a few hours after speculation began, Williams made it official. And Detwiler’s time in the Nationals’ rotation, at least for now, was over.
Considering that Detwiler missed most of last season with a back injury and was still the presumed favorite to earn back his rotation spot this spring, it is understandable that the left-hander was upset with the skipper’s decision. But Williams and the Nationals still believe that Detwiler will make a big impact this year, and that the best place for him to do that will be the bullpen.
Williams says Detwiler is “not happy. But you wouldn’t expect him to be.” Williams said it’s not a demotion, Det can be “special” in relief.
— Adam Kilgore (@AdamKilgoreWP) March 17, 2014
While Detwiler has been a starter for the majority of his career, he has had success in the bullpen. The 28-year-old left-hander has allowed just four earned runs in 32 1/3 relief innings, holding hitters to a .173 batting average. With Detwiler in the bullpen, the Nationals will have the rare commodity of carrying a left-handed reliever who can throw several innings if necessary, something that no doubt factored into today’s decision.
“I see him as a power lefty out of the bullpen,” Williams told Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post. “If we get in a matchup where if we’ve got two out of three guys facing that inning are lefties, we can certainly use him for a full inning in that regard. We could also use him for multiple innings. I wouldn’t limit him to a lefty specialist role. I just think it’s a luxury for our team to have a guy in our bullpen who can do those types of things.”
While Detwiler joining Jerry Blevins as the second lefty out of the bullpen might be good news for the Nationals, it could mean the end of the line for the likes of Xavier Cedeno and Michael Gonzalez, both of whom were hoping to make the opening day roster. Unless Williams decides to carry three left-handers in the bullpen, which is possible, it would not be surprising to see Gonzalez and Cedeno in the teams’ next round of cuts.
With Detwiler heading to the bullpen, the competition for the fifth spot in the rotation is down to Jordan, Tanner Roark and Chris Young. But the final decision will likely be between Roark and Young, both of whom had great rookie seasons for the Nationals in 2013.
Williams said earlier in the spring that he hoped to have the rotation set by March 18, a scheduled off day for the team. While it’s unlikely that we will have the final rotation by tomorrow, today’s decision answered a major question that the Nationals had going into spring training. And with opening day less than two weeks away, we should have a better idea of what the roster will look like in the very near future.