Detwiler’s mindset: I’ve won a rotation spot before, I can do it again

If Ross Detwiler had his choice, I’m sure he’d prefer to walk in on day one of spring training and know that a spot in the Nationals starting rotation was being set aside just for him.

Detwiler isn’t scared of a little competition, but if the options are having a starting spot with your name written on it or needing to battle for that spot, it would probably be nice to know that you had a little job security. That’s only natural.

That’s not how things will go this spring, however.

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo and new manager Matt Williams have made it clear that the fifth spot in the rotation will be up for grabs this spring, with Detwiler, Tanner Roark, Taylor Jordan, Ross Ohlendorf and Nathan Karns all having a shot to win the job. Detwiler is the favorite entering spring, because of his experience and success in the majors over the last couple of years, but he knows that he won’t have anything handed to him.

While Detwiler might prefer things were a little different, he’s not fretting about the fact that he’ll need to win a starting job again this spring.

“I’ve done it every single year, so it’s nothing different for me,” Detwiler said at NatsFest. “I’ve never had a spot just given to me; it’s always been up for grabs. I’ve won it in the past. I think I can do it again if I stay healthy and throw well.”

The health factor with Detwiler will be the main thing to watch early in spring, given the way last year went for the 27-year-old left-hander. Detwiler made just 13 starts in 2013, hampered by oblique and back issues that essentially cost him the entire second half of the season. Detwiler tried to rehab and come back late in the year, but it just wasn’t to be.

He ended up going to Florida to pitch in the instructional league last fall and made four starts there, which allowed him to at least finish 2013 on a bit of a positive note. Detwiler says he felt great during those four outings, convincing him that the oblique and back injuries are in the past and he can start fresh in 2014.

“After instructs, I proved my health to everybody and myself,” Detwiler said. “I went home and had a normal offseason. Started throwing a little sooner this year, with all the time off, so I feel like I’m ready to go already. Kind of itching to get back out there.”

That itch might be intensified by the fact that Detwiler just wants to put 2013 behind him for good. It was a frustrating year overall for the Nationals, but for Detwiler on a personal level, as well. While he wished things had gone differently, however, Detwiler did learn a thing or two from how his 2013 season played out.

“When not to push it,” Detwiler said, sounding somewhat similar to Bryce Harper in that regard. “I think every injury is going to be different, but I’m not going to try to push through like I did last year. I started the year great, then I had a little oblique problem in L.A. and tried to just push through that and do everything I could. And I lost my location. I was walking a few people and then I’d throw a ball down the middle and get hit hard. The thing I guess I learned the most is how I have to feel before I have to sit out, instead of just trying to push through it.”

In 2012, his first extended stretch in the Nationals rotation, Detwiler won 10 games and posted a solid 3.40 ERA, delivering 164 1/3 innings during the regular season. He then came through with a dynamite effort in a must-win Game 4 of the National League Division Series against the Cardinals, throwing six innings of three-hit ball that helped push the Nats to Game 5.

Detwiler certainly has confidence that he can be a quality big league starter. The Nats feel the same. Yet again, Detwiler will now need to go out and prove he’s deserving of a starting spot in spring training.

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