A winning season? Small potatoes

In past seasons, if the Nationals had reached 82 wins and guaranteed themselves a winning season, it’d have been a cause for celebration.

Heck, given where the team finished in 2008 and 2009, you would’ve thought they’d be popping bottles in the Nats’ clubhouse after finally notching that 82nd win.

The Nats hadn’t topped the 81-win mark since baseball returned to D.C. in 2005, and there hadn’t been a winning baseball team in the district since 1969. But this season, reaching that 82nd win is just a blip on the radar. There will be no celebrating, and that in and of itself shows the strides this organization has made.

“I guess having a winning season and doing things like that and it not being a major story kind of shows how far we’ve come,” said Ryan Zimmerman, who has experienced the lowest of the lows with this team and now is a part of a winning season for the first time in his career. “It’s fun to be a part of and it makes all the stuff in the past even more sweeter because we’ve all been through that stuff.”

Bigger goals are ahead. A division title. Postseason play. A league championship. A World Series.

What makes the Nats believe they can accomplish all that is their well-rounded roster and the evolution of younger players. Guys like Ian Desmond. Danny Espinosa. Bryce Harper. Jordan Zimmermann.

Guys like Ross Detwiler.

Detwiler threw seven scoreless innings yesterday, dropping his ERA to 3.15, 13th-best in the National League. He tossed 93 pitches, most two- and four-seam fastballs, but also mixed in nine curveballs and six changeups to keep Cubs hitters honest.

The lefty got ahead in the count, which he said was key for him. He attacked hitters, which has been a point of emphasis lately. He also wasn’t afraid to go to his offspeed stuff in big spots, even though his four-seamer and hard sinker are his bread-and-butter. Detwiler’s final pitch of the day - a curveball with a runner on in the seventh - resulted in an inning-ending double play.

Detwiler’s settling into a groove, and his teammates are taking notice.

“I see a guy whose confidence is growing daily,” Adam LaRoche said. “... I think he’s turning into a big-game pitcher and likes being out there and wants to go deep in games. Learning how important it is to get ahead of these hitters and have quick innings. He’s doing it. He’s been doing it for us.”

“Ross has come a long way,” Zimmerman said. “I think he’s a lot more aggressive on the mound now. ... He’s got a long ways to go and he’s been great for us this year and it’s really only the tip of the iceberg for him. He’s still learning how to pitch, so he’s come a long way and I think we’re all proud of how he’s learned from his mistakes and grown and become the pitcher he is.”

“I was just talking with some of the guys. He’s come a long way from the guy he was probably this time halfway through last year until now,” Tyler Clippard said. “He’s made tremendous strides. He’s out there pitching with confidence, going right after guys, locating his fastball, doing all the things you need to do to be a successful starter in the big leagues. He belongs, he knows he belongs now. (A) lefty starter throwing 95 (mph) is pretty rare in the big leagues so we’re glad he’s on our side.”

Detwiler’s teammates are gaining more confidence in him. So is his manager. Davey Johnson has let Detwiler work seven full innings five times in Detwiler’s last 10 starts. That’s a point Detwiler had only reached twice in his first 41 career starts prior to this stretch.

It doesn’t always come together for top prospects right away. Detwiler struggled in his first couple trips to the big leagues, showed flashes of promise last season and now, in his second stint in the rotation this year, is putting it together.

He’s a big part of the reason why 82 wins means so little to the guys in the Nationals’ clubhouse this time around.

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