Despite strong start to spring, Detwiler left looking at long relief

VIERA, Fla. - On practically any other team, Ross Detwiler would be spending his spring competing for a spot in the starting rotation.

Unfortunately for the lefty, that's not the case here.

When you're part of a pitching staff that features Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson, Chien-Ming Wang and John Lannan, you're likely to find yourself stuck in the bullpen, fighting for whatever innings are left over. That's the case with Detwiler, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2007 draft who is currently the No. 7 starting hurler on manager Davey Johnson's depth chart.

But while Detwiler would certainly prefer to be a part of the Nationals' starting five, the 26-year-old will take major league innings any way he can get 'em.

"I like to be in the game," Detwiler said. "Whatever my role is, as long as I'm in a big league uniform, I don't really care."

Detwiler put together a strong 2011 campaign, posting a 3.00 ERA in 15 appearances with the Nationals, 10 of which were starts. The left-hander joined the Nats' rotation in early August, and while he earned wins in just three of his starts, Detwiler allowed more than three earned runs in a start only once all season.

Those numbers mean little on a team stocked with quality arms in its rotation, however, meaning Detwiler - who is out of options this year - will be headed for the Nats' bullpen as a long reliever/spot starter.

Relieving is still new to Detwiler, but he's aware that's almost certainly what he'll be spending the bulk of his 2012 season doing.

"It's all pitching once you get down to it," Detwiler said, "so whatever routine I have to get on, if I'm in the bullpen, I'm going to have to rely a lot on those guys to teach me a routine, teach me to feel something out and find something that works for me."

So far this spring, Detwiler is pitching like a guy who wants to prove he's ready to make a major league rotation. He allowed a home run in his first outing, but struck out three in two innings of work. Yesterday, he looked even more sharp, setting down all nine Astros hitters he faced in order, striking out three.

"I felt strong," Detwiler said. "I felt like I could have kept going, but there's a lot of pitchers here and a lot of guys who need to get work."

Detwiler has come out of the bullpen in both of his spring appearances, something he'll need to get used to. The problem once the season starts will be getting innings. With such a talented rotation, his relief appearances might be few and far between.

"Being a long reliever on this team is not going to be very fun," Detwiler said with a smile. "There's not going to be very many innings, but some people have their roles. My time will come."

Dan Kolko was named MASNsports.com's Nationals beat writer after spending the last four years covering the Baltimore Ravens for MASN and also serving as the Web site's deputy managing editor. A University of Delaware graduate originally from Silver Spring, Md., Dan grew up a die-hard baseball fan and is thrilled for the opportunity to cover the Nationals. Before joining MASN, Dan worked in production at Comcast SportsNet in Bethesda, Md., and also interned at the "George Michael Sports Machine" in Washington, D.C.

Follow Dan Kolko on Twitter: @DanKolko

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