VIERA, Fla. - Ross Detwiler sprints from the mound, takes a flip from spring training instructor Mark Grater and applies an tag on an imaginary runner at home plate. Another mundane but important drill completed, Detwiler heads off to his next station, a definitely noticeable spring in his step.
And why not? After the way he impressed at the end of last season, the left-hander is expected to head north as part of the 12-man pitching staff manager Davey Johnson will take out of spring training.
Since the 25-year-old is out of options, the Nationals need to keep him or risk exposing him to waivers if they want to send him to the minors. There’s no way Detwiler would pass through unclaimed, not after going 4-5 with a 3.00 ERA and winning his final three starts in September.
The strong finish did more than set up Detwiler for a good chance to make the 25-man roster out of spring training. It helped him figure out the things he needed to do in order to be successful in the majors, something that had previously eluded him.
“I think I learned a lot about myself last year,” Detwiler said. “I learned how I have success. Now I’m just trying to get my work in. Not try to stay on the same roll I was on, but just live pitch by pitch. I know it’s cliche, but that’s what I want to do.”
Last year, Detwiler finally learned how to attack hitters, putting them in disadvantageous counts. Where he used to nibble tentatively at the strike zone, he figured how to finish hitters off. He had a 3.21 ERA in 10 starts and a 1.80 ERA in five relief appearances.
The only real question is whether Detwiler will stick in the rotation - he’d have to bump right-hander Chien-Ming Wang and lefty John Lannan - or work out of the bullpen. Right now, he’s a strong candidate to start as one of Johnson’s long men in relief, but he’ll be stretched out so he’s prepared to start in case someone goes down.
To Detwiler, his role doesn’t matter as long as he’s with the big league club.
“I’d rather start, but as long as I’m a part of the team and we’re winning, I can’t complain about anything, really,” he said. “You control the things you can control, and that’s out of my control.”
What Detwiler, the sixth overall pick in the 2007 draft, can control is how he prepares.
“Everything about pitching is finding your own rhythm, finding your own pace,” Detwiler said. “Hopefully, that’s what we do by the end of spring training.”