Detwiler’s importance down the stretch

Ross Detwiler went 5 1/3 innings yesterday, allowing two runs in a loss to the Braves.

For much of the first four innings, however, Detwiler was on point. He was locating his fastball, pounding the zone and using his two-seamer to let Braves hitters beat the ball into the ground.

After the game, Davey Johnson expressed a desire to see Detwiler mix in his off-speed pitches a bit more, but overall, the Nationals like the way Detwiler has relied more on his fastball lately, attacking hitters and trusting his stuff.

As we get deeper into the season and Stephen Strasburg’s shutdown date nears, Detwiler will need to continue progressing. He’ll be counted on big-time down the stretch in the regular season and could be in line for some postseason starts if the Nats get into seven-game series, as well.

One guy who has spent a good bit of time with Detwiler is veteran reliever Michael Gonzalez, who joined the team in early June. At that time, Detwiler was working out of the bullpen, so the two left-handers had time to discuss Detwiler’s approach on the mound, which back then was a bit more tentative.

Gonzalez has tried to get Detwiler to have more faith in his stuff and work off his fastball, the same message that pitching coach Steve McCatty has been preaching.

“To me, with Ross, it’s more of a confidence factor thing,” Gonzalez said prior to Detwiler’s last start. “I think he obviously has great stuff, legit stuff, above-average everything. So it’s one of those things where I just want him to pound the strike zone a little more. Be a little more aggressive with it. Sometimes he’s trying to make pitches instead of just going right after the guys and not giving these guys too much credit. No matter who you are, it’s pretty hard to hit a 95 mph fastball from the left side from a (6-foot-5) kind of guy like Ross Detwiler.

“So I pretty much just remind him of what he already knows. Sometimes you just need that. I’m not trying to change things on him or anything, it’s just trying to remind him to stay aggressive and pound the strike zone.”

In 11 starts since returning to the rotation, Detwiler has a 3.17 ERA, compared to a 3.88 ERA during his stint in the rotation earlier this season. He often gets overlooked because of the big named ahead of him in the Nationals’ rotation, but guys around the league are noticing how good Detwiler can be.

At the All-Star Game, Braves center fielder Michael Bourn told reporters that Detwiler is a No. 1 or No. 2 starter in the making, something which Gonzalez would like Detwiler to believe himself.

“I think Ross sometimes doesn’t know his strengths or know how good he is,” Gonzalez said. “And that’s fine. You’ll get that. But he still hasn’t gotten to that point yet where he knows how good he really is. And that’s what I’m trying to get him to.

“Everybody in this clubhouse knows (he’s got a lot of potential). I feel like every outing he’s gotten better, other than the other day that he was sick. He was feeling really bad. But you ask Detwiler, I tell him who I compare him to. I compare him to the (Clayton) Kershaws and those guys, because that’s the kind of stuff he has. He’s just got to go out there and do it, that’s all.”

Meanwhile, as a side note, thanks in large part to the Nationals’ on-field success this season, MASN has seen an increase in viewership of Nats games in 2012.

You can find more on the increase in viewership here.

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