Nats trying to make Ross Detwiler fit in ‘pen

By Andrew Simon

WASHINGTON — When the Nationals converted Ross Detwiler into a relief pitcher near the end of Spring Training, they didn’t intend to relegate him to mop-up duty.

“He provides something special out of the bullpen,” manager Matt Williams said at the time.

“He is going to be a major part of that out of our bullpen.”

More than a month into the season, it hasn’t turned out that way for the left-hander. Jerry Blevins is the ‘pen’s primary lefty, Craig Stammen is the primary long reliever, and Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen set up closer Rafael Soriano. Detwiler’s job has not been so well defined.

But Friday might have brought a positive step. Leading 5-2, the Nats called upon Detwiler to pitch the sixth inning against three left-handed batters. He retired Curtis Granderson, gave up a single to Bobby Abreu, then induced a double-play grounder from Lucas Duda.

“We keep wanting that spot for him,” Williams said on Saturday.

“We’ve told him that we want to get him more opportunities. It hasn’t worked that way through the first 41 games, but I’d imagine that at some point during this season, it’ll work better that way. So it’s encouraging, yeah.”

At three runs, it was the smallest lead Detwiler has pitched with this season, as most of his appearances have come with the game pretty much decided one way or another.

Baseball-Reference.com calculates a statistic called “leverage index,” a measurement of the pressure a player faces during a game, depending on the score and situation. A number greater than 1.0 indicates above-average pressure, while a number less than 1.0 indicates below-average pressure. Detwiler’s season average of 0.47 is the ninth-lowest among all MLB pitchers with at least 10 appearances this season. His 0.87 score on Friday was his fourth-highest of the year.

“That’s the situation we want to put him in,” Williams said. “It doesn’t work out every day, but yeah. We want to do that. We’ve had the meeting with him and talked to him about it. I’ve personally talked to him about I want to get you more of those opportunities and I’ll do my best to get you in those situations, and last night was one of them. Maybe there’s another opportunity today.”

As Williams pointed out, one obstacle is that as a converted starter, it still takes Detwiler longer to warm up in the bullpen than the team’s other relievers. Therefore, in a quick-developing situation at a key point in the game, he might not be able to get loose fast enough to get an opportunity.

Detwiler also probably hasn’t pitched well enough to demand a greater role. He has a solid 3.79 ERA in 19 innings but has allowed 22 hits, a .297 opponents’ average and nearly as many walks (11) as strikeouts (12).

Then again, if Detwiler finds a solid role and more consistent chances along with it, his performance could benefit.

“The issue is we want to give him more work so his mechanics are good and he feels good about throwing strikes,” Williams said. “It’s like a guy who plays off the bench — the more at-bats he gets, the better timing he gets. It’s the same with pitching.”

Follow Andrew Simon on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.

 

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