Given how long he's been out while working back from a herniated disc in his back, it always seemed somewhat unlikely that Ross Detwiler would be able to return and pitch in major league games before the end of this season.
Detwiler, who has been sidelined since July 4 due to the back injury, threw three simulated innings today at Nationals Park, and is continuing to progress in his rehab. But while the Nationals have been optimistic that Detwiler would be able to come back and pitch out of the bullpen for them late this season, manager Davey Johnson acknowledged today that the chances of that happening aren't good.
Detwiler will report to the Nationals' minor league complex in Viera, Fla., on Monday, and will throw in an instructional league game down there. But with the big league schedule quickly shrinking, Johnson doesn't see much point in bringing Detwiler back after his outing in Florida.
"If that's the plan, he might as well stay down there," Johnson said. "I don't see it. He'd need to have four days off (after Monday's start) and then there's only one game or two games left. I don't see the point in coming out and having him for one game probably. But that's going to be a decision made down the road. He is definitely going to go down to, I guess, Viera."
Johnson did say that if the Nats do happen to sneak into the playoffs, there is the possibility that Detwiler could be added to the postseason roster at that point. But that's obviously a long way off. The Nats need to get there, and Detwiler needs to prove he's healthy and can be effective.
One good sign is that pitching coach Steve McCatty gave Johnson good reports on what he saw from Detwiler today.
"He looked good," Johnson said. "He threw fastball, curveball, change. Free and easy. Threw hard."
The Nats haven't just wanted to get Detwiler back to the big league level so he could help them on their postseason run. They also feel it's important to put him into game situations to make sure that his back injury has fully cleared up and won't be a problem again next season when he's thrust back into strenuous innings.
The worst-case scenario would be that Detwiler feels fine in his instructional league action, rests during the offseason and then has the injury pop up again in spring training, when he'd need to miss valuable time. If something is still wrong in there, the Nats want Detwiler to be able to use the offseason to get the back fixed.
"I had a feeling some of this stuff started coming on him after the (World Baseball Classic)," Johnson said. "And then I think it was bothering him two or three starts into the season, and then I think it got worse and finally got aggravated out in L.A. It got a little twisted. So I think we need to see if this injury is going to resurface. As many starts as he can get, appearances, is I think important. He needs to be reliable next year."
The Nats have posed winter ball as a possibility for Detwiler, but as I've mentioned in the past, that's something Detwiler would like to avoid. The Nats will need to decide whether the number of starts and innings Detwiler gets in the instructional league are enough, or whether he'll need more competitive innings during the winter.
"Maybe he can get enough work where the club and the medical staff will be convinced that we're by that," Johnson said. "But the injury is such that there's no easy medical cure, so you're just concerned because there is a little problem in there, if that's going to get exacerbated and come back. That's the whole issue. Is it innings or is it times he gets up, or what, he can aggravate it. It's going to be a tough decision."