It was a crucial moment for the Nationals Saturday against the New York Mets. Starter Yunesky Maya had slightly hurt himself running the base paths after five seamless innings on the hill. In the top of the sixth, with the Nationals clinging to a 3-0 lead, manager Davey Johnson had considered pulling Maya when he saw him come up lame.
But Maya convinced Johnson to stay in and got Mets second baseman Justin Turner to fly out to center field for the first out. However, the next two batters, first baseman Daniel Murphy and third baseman David Wright, smacked base hits to put two runners on with only one out.
The tying run was coming to the plate in dangerous Mets center fielder Angel Pagan. Johnson made the move to the bullpen and left-hander Ross Detwiler. The St. Louis, Mo., native has become the long man or bridge that Johnson has spoke about so many times to get the pitching staff into the seventh or beyond.
In one of the biggest pitches of the game, Detwiler got Pagan to ground to Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who stepped on third and threw to first for a dramatic inning-ending double play.
Detwiler allowed a base hit to Mets left fielder Jason Bay to lead off the seventh, but forced Mets right fielder Lucas Duda into another double play, this one, 3-6-3.
In 10 pitches, Detwiler had gotten four outs, holding the Nationals’ advantage at 3-0, the eventual final score.
With all the news swirling around the pitching staff and some nagging injuries slowing starters, Detwiler’s role has expanded to long man and safety starter.
He has excelled in chances like Saturday night against the Mets, in a desperate moment for his team, mired in a six-game skid. He also had a huge outing last Sunday at Los Angeles when he had to pitch following just three innings from starter Tom Gorzelanny.
His 2 2/3 innings against the Dodgers again held the Nationals in the game and gave them a chance to win.
With 2010’s nagging hip injury behind him, refinement of his curveball and solid velocity from his fastball, Detwiler has established himself as the go-to long reliever Johnson was seeking when he took over for Jim Riggleman.
Detwiler has not allowed a run in three straight appearances and four of his last five outings. Opponents are batting just .232 against him and his WHIP is 1.17.
But beyond the numbers, it cannot be understated how important Detwiler’s role is to a pitching staff in flux. With Jason Marquis traded away, the possibility of Drew Storen also being sent to teams like Minnesota and Gorzelanny transitioning into a relief role, Detwiler can bridge that gap and protect the Nationals’ defense for the middle innings and emergency start if necessary.
This is also extremely valuable if Maya cannot make his next start.