It’s long been assumed that when Chien-Ming Wang returns from his hamstring injury, the fifth spot in the Nationals’ rotation is his, and Ross Detwiler will move to the bullpen.
Wang is a proven veteran who twice has won 19 games in a season, and the Nationals loved what they saw from the 32-year-old this spring prior to the injury he suffered during a Grapefruit League start on March 15.
But with Detwiler throwing the heck out of the ball to start the season (I’m now borrowing one of Davey Johnson’s favorite phrases), things have gotten more complicated. Now, it’s fair to start wondering what the Nats will decide to do with the final spot on their starting staff when Wang is ready to rejoin the team, likely in a few weeks.
That’s an issue that Johnson isn’t ready to tackle yet.
“I don’t want to think about it,” Johnson said after Detwiler threw six shutout innings tonight. “I like what I’m seeing. He’s been outstanding.”
Having too many quality starting pitchers is a good problem to have, but it is a problem. Can the Nationals really move Detwiler out of the rotation if he keeps pitching like he has over his last three starts, in which he’s allowed just a single earned run in 16 innings?
After tonight’s effort, Detwiler is 2-0 and the owner of a 0.56 ERA. He’s well aware that Wang is closing in on a return to the majors, and if you think that’s not motivating him every time he takes the mound, you’re crazy.
“I do have to prove myself every time out because there’s somebody that’s great right behind me,” the 26-year-old left-hander said. “And once he’s healthy then my job is to put it in their hands and make it a tough decision for them.”
Tonight, Detwiler breezed through six innings of work on just 79 pitches, giving up only three hits and a walk and striking out seven. He easily could have gone out for another inning, but Johnson opted to turn things over to the red-hot Craig Stammen in the seventh inning instead of trying to squeeze one more frame out of Detwiler.
“Det was superb,” Johnson said. “I think he had another inning in him, but he had kind of a shortened spring where he got in the rotation late and that was just his third outing against a good-hitting ballclub. I didn’t want to push my luck. Had a fresh ‘pen. He was a little shocked I took him out. But an outstanding game.”
Detwiler will certainly be frustrated and disappointed if he’s moved out of the rotation when Wang returns, but he can’t think about any of that now. His job is to keep turning in quality starts and piling up the wins.
And if the Nationals do eventually decide to bump him from the rotation and move him over to the ‘pen?
“I can’t really quit,” Detwiler said with a smile. “I’m not just going to pack it up and go home. It really is up to them. They’ve been doing this for a long time, they know what’s best for the team and that’s what it comes down to.
“We’re playing great right now.”