Ross Detwiler's first six outings of this season were about as good as the Nationals could have hoped for when they named the lefty their No. 5 starter at the end of spring training.
Over those six starts, Detwiler pitched to a 2.10 ERA, posted a 1.02 WHIP by allowing just 35 baserunners in 34 1/3 innings, and held opponents to just a .208 average and a lowly .280 slugging percentage.
He was pitching exceptionally well, making Nats fans forget about Chien-Ming Wang, who was rehabbing a left hamstring injury, and John Lannan, who was down at Triple-A Syracuse after his surprise demotion at the end of spring.
Detwiler's last two times out, however, have seen a clear drop-off.
In each of his two most recent outings, Detwiler worked just five innings, and his numbers have skyrocketed. It's a small sample size, for sure, but over that 10-inning span, Detwiler allowed 11 runs (10 earned) and 16 hits.
His batting average allowed in those two starts was .372, his WHIP was 1.80 and opponents slugged .651 off him.
It would have been unreasonable for the Nationals to expect Detwiler would keep up his ridiculously strong start over the course of an entire season, considering his lack of major league experience. But this recent downturn is interesting, especially when you look at the timing of it.
Detwiler's two shaky outings overlapped with Wang's rehab starts at Triple-A, where the veteran righty was putting up solid performances and showing he was nearing a return to the big leagues.
On May 9, Wang pitched seven innings of two-run ball for Syracuse, and he went eight strong innings his next time out, on May 14. The Nationals had made it seem all along that when Wang was ready to rejoin the major league team, he'd be placed in the rotation, likely bumping Detwiler to the bullpen.
It would only be natural for Detwiler to be looking over his shoulder of late, wondering if Wang was set to push him out of a rotation spot. There's a chance he went out trying to do too much in recent outings, aiming to make a statement to manager Davey Johnson and general manager Mike Rizzo.
Regardless of whether that's the case or not, Wang is with the big league club now, but will pitch out of the bullpen today once Detwiler's outing is over. Detwiler is still the Nats' No. 5 starter, but he'll have to pitch well to keep control of that spot.
The Nats still view Wang as a starter, and if Detwiler continues to struggle, they could easily make a change on their staff, inserting Wang into the rotation and moving Detwiler to the 'pen, where he has some experience from last season.
Now that Wang is fully recovered from that hamstring injury, Detwiler's rope has gotten shorter. It might not be easy, but he needs to find a way to ignore the outside distractions and regain the form he showed over the first month of the season. Otherwise, he might be bullpen-bound again soon.
A quick note: I'm heading out to Las Vegas for a friend's bachelor party which was planned prior to me getting the Nats beat writer job. Unfortunately (sarcasm) I'll be forced to follow through on the trip.
The MASNsports.com crew will be filling in for me these next few days, and I'll try and check in from time-to-time as well. Hope everyone has a great holiday weekend.