I had opined in a post on this site about two months ago that Ross Detwiler could be headed to the Nats bullpen this year, and that might be a good move by the Nats. Now that we have had a chance to see Detwiler this spring, and performances by the rest of the pitching staff, the move to make Detwiler a left handed alternative out of the pen is clearly a good move by the Nats.
Asking Detwiler to throw fewer innings in shorter work appearances may help him pitch the entire year this season without ending up on the DL again. Detwiler still has a bad disc in his back. It is an issue that Detwiler may have to deal with the rest of his career. Anything that can be done to reduce his innings pitched may improve his health and lengthen his career.
During Detwiler’s starting pitching outings this spring (the few I have been able to see–thanks for nothing MASN) he has started strong the first inning, but became very hittable after that. He is still throwing mostly fastballs. He has been working on a curve ball, but it is still a work in process and is not buckling hitters the way it needs to in order to be effective. In short, at this point in his career Detwiler is still mainly a fastball pitcher.
A pitcher who throws 95% fastballs is called a reliever. At this point in Detwiler’s career, he pitches like a reliever.
Moving Detwiler to the pen gives the Nationals an effective left handed reliever that can go more than one inning if need be. It also gives them a quality option over some of the other left handed relievers the Nats invited to spring training. If Detwiler in the pen means the Nats stop flirting with signing Michael Gonzalez out of desperation for a lefty out of the bullpen, it is a great move.
Michael Gonzalez was let go from the Brewers after last season having posted an ERA of 4.68 in 75 appearances. Those stats do not warm my heart. Gonzalez has looked terrible in spring training so far–two innings, ERA of 13.50. He’s 36 years old, and may have hit the end of career wall. You can say, “Oh it’s just spring training”, but a veteran pitcher should not look this bad in spring training unless he is having health issues or he is done. Roy Halladay, for example, looked terrible in spring training last year and I told anyone who would listen that he was done. Partway through last season, he was.
The other thing that having Detwiler in the bullpen does for the Nationals is gives them a starting option they can go right to if one of the starters gets hurt and lands on the DL or has to come out of a game early in a start. With Ross Ohlendorf injured and Doug Fister with an inflamed elbow, Detwiler is available to start a couple of games if Fister needs more time to recover from his injury. Ohlendorf is not an option right now since he is hurt. Having Detwiler in the bullpen available to start means the Nats don’t have to bring up a replacement starter from the minors that may not be ready just to cover an injured starter.
Detwiler, from all reports, is not happy about being sent to the bullpen. That is understandable. Ross obviously views the move as some sort of demotion. It isn’t.
Ross needs to talk to a fellow member of the National’s pen, a guy named Craig Stammen. When Craig first came up to the club from the minors, he was a starter. He would be effective for about three or four innings, and then falter. He could not pitch effectively long enough to be a complete front line starter. The first year he came up I said, after watching him pitch, he should be converted to a long reliever. The Nats did so, and Stammen’s career has flourished. If he had remained a starter and fought the reliever role, he would probably either still be in the minors or out of baseball.
Detwiler needs to understand that being a member of the Nationals bullpen is not a demotion. It is an opportunity, an opportunity to be an important, contributing member of a team that could make a deep run in the playoffs. It is more fun, and better for your career, to be a member of the bullpen of a successful team than a starter on a mediocre or bad team.
Detwiler in the pen, available to be a left handed reliever that the Nationals really need this year, may ultimately be a key to the team’s success this year. Obviously the organization realizes this. Hopefully Detwiler will too.