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Detwiler will open season in bullpen

Mar 17, 2014, 3:01 PM EST

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The Nationals haven’t named a No. 5 starter yet, but they have eliminated one very prominent name from the competition: Ross Detwiler.

Matt Williams told reporters in Lakeland today that Detwiler will open the season in the Nationals’ bullpen, a decision the rookie manager cited as being in the club’s best interests. That leaves Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan battling for the final spot in the Opening Day rotation, though Williams also mentioned veteran Chris Young as an option.

Detwiler seemingly entered camp with a leg up on the others, given his experience (69 career starts for the Nationals), relative success (4.02 ERA) and stature within the organization as the sixth-overall pick in the country in the 2007 draft. His case appeared to be bolstered by the fact he showed no lingering issues from the lower back injury that restricted him to 13 starts last season.

But the 28-year-old has never fully realized his potential, offering glimpses along the way of what he can be only to be derailed by injuries and inconsistent performances.

Detwiler has previously pitched in relief for short stretches and has been highly successful: He owns a 1.11 ERA in 16 career bullpen appearances spanning 32 1/3 innings, and his 1.052 WHIP as a reliever is significantly better than his 1.395 mark as a starter.

Any previous bullpen stints, though, were seen as temporary, with the Nationals always viewing Detwiler as a starter long-term. Today’s decision may suggest an organizational mindset change.

Williams explained the move by suggesting Detwiler can be “special” as a reliever, also insisting this shouldn’t be viewed as a demotion. After waiting seven years for the lefty to develop as a front-line starter, the Nationals may simply believe his best chance at long-term success is out of the bullpen.

Detwiler’s performance and repertoire suggest he may be more effective as a reliever. He threw fastballs (both four-seam and two-seam varieties) an astounding 88 percent of the time last season, second-most among all MLB pitchers (behind Dodgers reliever Kenley Jansen) who threw at least 70 innings. Relievers don’t need as much variety among their pitches given how few batters they face in a particular game.

Detwiler also has shown a propensity to fade the deeper he gets into starts, perhaps evidence of opposing batters figuring him out the more they see him. For his career, opponents have hit just .225 with a .631 OPS in their first plate appearance against him, but those numbers skyrocket to .300 and .787 in their second plate appearance and .324 and .873 in their third appearance.

Detwiler has completed six innings in only 31 of his 69 career starts; he has completed seven innings only nine times, and he has reached the eighth inning only once.

“We just feel like we’re a better team with him coming out of our bullpen,” Williams told reporters. “He offers something that’s special: power lefty, mid-90s lefty. It doesn’t mean he won’t start at some point in the future.”

Perhaps not. Maybe Detwiler will indeed get another chance to start for the Nationals some day.

But today’s decision certainly suggests the Nats are ready to try something different. It suggests they believe Detwiler’s true future lies in the bullpen.

  1. veejh - Mar 17, 2014 at 3:08 PM

    I think the Nats are spot on with their evaluation. I’m pulling for Roark as the #5. Let Jordan pitch every 5th day in AAA.

  2. unterp - Mar 17, 2014 at 3:10 PM

    Wow, who will it be Roark or Jordan? I think it will be Roark. Also, good move. Makes team stronger…

  3. Sonny G 10 - Mar 17, 2014 at 3:16 PM

    I feel a little disappointed by this. I have been rooting for Det to make good as a starter ever since he came up. I don’t know if Williams is right or wrong, but I guess we’ll see how this works out.

    • NatsLady - Mar 17, 2014 at 4:01 PM

      I think we’ve all been rooting for him. And we all loved 2012. But Mark’s stats are on the money, Detwiler profiles as a reliever right now. You don’t want to put a guy in the rotation who doesn’t make it past the 6th inning, or if he does, he puts you in a hole. We saw that with Ohlendorf–he was only good for five innings per outing. That stresses the bullpen.

      Before I saw this move I thought MW might do something outside the box, like piggyback Roark with Detwiler to make a “combined” fifth starter. However, MW, so far, doesn’t strike me as an “outside the box” (Tony LaRusso) type manager. He’s tough, and apparently willing to make tough decisions (like this one, like RZ to first base). So I think we can expect a tough but more-or-less conventional manager, with minor innovations (defensive shifts) sprinkled in. In this case, I think MW (perhaps with Rizzo and McCatty) reviewed Det’s history, reviewed his stats, and made the decision early on. Better that than a month in. Detwiler can always go back to the rotation if there is an injury or underperformance.

      BTW, Kilgore points out we have a very expensive bullpen right now. However, the rotation is not too pricey, so that’s offset.

  4. Danny - Mar 17, 2014 at 3:18 PM

    I guess this leaves one spot in the bullpen for I believe Roark, if he loses out on 5th starter, Garcia, Cedeno, or a dark horse Barrett.

  5. David Proctor - Mar 17, 2014 at 3:39 PM

    Meanwhile, Jarrod Parker for the A’s needs his second TJ surgery. Another one bites the dust.

  6. unkyd59 - Mar 17, 2014 at 3:46 PM

    I wonder if this makes a Storen trade any more likely… Det would seem to profile as a devastating LH setup guy…

    • nats128 - Mar 17, 2014 at 4:36 PM

      That will be something to watch for the next 2 weeks.

  7. Doc - Mar 17, 2014 at 3:47 PM

    If not Roark in the rotation, who?

    I’m thinking Roark for RH long relief,possibly.

    Reallllllllllllllllllllllllllllly long shot, but lefty Solis for last rotation spot. Probably TJ, when all the dust settles–but he’s got to work on not tipping his breaking stuff.

    • David Proctor - Mar 17, 2014 at 4:05 PM

      Solis was already optioned to AA so not him

  8. jd - Mar 17, 2014 at 3:47 PM

    This move gets a lot of respect for the rookie manager. Going with Detwiler would have been the easy, straight forward decision but in truth it would have been the wrong decision. Make no mistake about it, Det won’t be happy about this simply because relievers (who are not closers) don’t make as much money as starters but really Det has a chance to be an excellent reliever instead of a mediocre starter and I hope he has the smarts to understand that.

    I am a big fan of Taylor Jordan but I am not convinced he’s ready, I also like Roark but I am not convinced that last year is sustainable. In any event both of these guys are plenty good enough for a no. 5 starter’s job and I also think that A.J Cole is not that far off.

  9. Doc - Mar 17, 2014 at 3:50 PM

    Ol’ Matty’s not afraid to change it up!

    Goooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo Nats!!!!

  10. Hiram Hover - Mar 17, 2014 at 4:03 PM

    I notice Rizzo’s name nowhere, and a number of folks calling this Williams’ decision–but do we really know that, or think it was solely a rookie manager’s call? I don’t.

    The 5th spot in the rotation is still open, and the 7th spot in the BP. The latter won’t go to Cedeno or Solis–because they already sent Solis to minor league camp, because Cedeno just isnt that good, and because a 3-lefty BP seems unlikely anyway. Maybe Barrett. Maybe Ayala. At least as likely, I imagine, is whoever doesn’t get the #5 spot in the rotation.

    • NatsLady - Mar 17, 2014 at 4:25 PM

      One hundred percent Williams did not make this decision outside of a meeting room. πŸ˜‰

      Barrett will be the first call if Storen (or any other RH’er) falters or gets injured. Mattheus and Ohlendorf start the season on the DL, which means a couple of weeks in April to see how the bullpen sorts itself out. Solis went to Harrisburg to get stretched out as a starter. CedeΓ±o, Ayala, and Gonazlez will have to accept minor-league assignments or move on.

      My money’s on Jordan for 5th starter and Roark to the bullpen. Jordan may not be “ready” but I don’t see what else he has to learn in Syracuse. I put Roark in the bullpen because if Jordan does stink up the place Roark can come right in (as could Detwiler) but also because I’m a bit worried about the miles on Stammen’s arm. Roark’s clearly demonstrated he is a major-league pitcher, so why send him down, make a place for him.

      Chris Young, regretfully, is the odd man out. I hope he’ll accept Syracuse–as he did not last season–because he could be very helpful as a reserve.

      • Hiram Hover - Mar 17, 2014 at 4:47 PM

        Good analysis, NL.

        Whoever gets the #5 spot, he’s going to have to pitch well to keep it, with two other contenders for it in the BP.

  11. NatsLady - Mar 17, 2014 at 4:08 PM

    William Ladson ‏@washingnats
    The #Nationals have traded catcher Koyie Hill to the Phillies for a player to be named later or cash. #Nats #MLB

  12. Eric - Mar 17, 2014 at 4:11 PM

    Reposting from the last thread as it’s more appropriate here:

    Pretty wild about Det. For some reason Roark inspires more confidence for me than Jordan, but either way I do think Det has failed to show he can repeat his late 2012 success. I also can imagine him being pretty devastating out of the pen, a la Zinn in the 2012 NLDS (well, maybe not *quite* so devastating, but same vein).

  13. Nattydread - Mar 17, 2014 at 4:12 PM

    Good that this decision was made relatively early. Remember Lannan getting his demotion very late in the day? And unexpectedly? Det gets plenty of time to accept, adjust and prepare. You can’t always get what you want — but a spot in a major league bullpen may be what he needs.

    • TimDz - Mar 17, 2014 at 5:32 PM

      I like Mick Jagger’s version better….

      • adcwonk - Mar 17, 2014 at 9:23 PM


    • NatsNut - Mar 17, 2014 at 8:58 PM

      Yea, and it was Detwiler who Lannan lost his position to. Baseball is funny.

      • natsfan1a - Mar 18, 2014 at 9:12 AM

        Interesting point.

  14. Mrsb loves the Nats - Mar 17, 2014 at 4:25 PM

    Just the best situation for the BP and the starting 5. He doesn’t have quiet a selection of pitches to compensate, I think… And his health… Save him from himself..

    Wish there was another SLHP but Jordan and Roark have had really good ST….

  15. masterfishkeeper - Mar 17, 2014 at 4:25 PM

    I think this was the move that has the biggest upside, because NationalDet can really improve the bullpen, and at least one of Jordan and Roark should be an effective fifth starter.

    I think Roark will get it, while Jordan refines his skills at Syacuse.

    I agree with whoever said up thread that this must mean they think Fister is okay.

    • Eric - Mar 17, 2014 at 4:38 PM

      Great tea leaf read re: Fister’s status, whoever said it.

  16. veejh - Mar 17, 2014 at 4:33 PM

    Either way you cut it, it appears we have lots of starter depth for the #5 spot. Any of these guys can be plugged in, whether it be BP or SR, early on. I think we’re pretty set no matter how the cake gets cut early on.

    • Eric - Mar 17, 2014 at 4:40 PM

      Yeah, at this point it’s all about health, health, health. And, on that front, it seems the Nats are really doing their best to stay on top of things, at least if Fister and Zim are any indication.

  17. David Proctor - Mar 17, 2014 at 4:38 PM

    Ladson breaking the big news as always.

    William Ladson ‏@washingnats 1m
    #Nats manager Matt Williams announced that right-hander Tyler Clippard will be his eighth-inning reliever. #Nationals #MLB

    • veejh - Mar 17, 2014 at 4:40 PM

      Huge news. Keep it coming.

    • nats128 - Mar 17, 2014 at 4:49 PM

      Again, what does that mean for Drew Storen? Is he the 7th inning setup guy, the closer (kidding) or a specialist or does this possibly indicate a trade?

    • NatsLady - Mar 17, 2014 at 4:49 PM

      A real shocker!

      • Mrsb loves the Nats - Mar 17, 2014 at 4:53 PM

        Not really surprising but I really hope Drew gets it together becuz Soriano… Unh… Not really feeling him.

      • Doc - Mar 17, 2014 at 5:03 PM

        Ladson’s also going out on a limb, and saying that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow!

        TJ starts and Roark long relief in the pen—I’m with you on that NL.

        Things could change over the season; Solis comes on and A.J. Cole starts to toss a big league ball.

      • Doc - Mar 17, 2014 at 5:03 PM

        Ladson’s also going out on a limb, and saying that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow!

        TJ starts and Roark long relief in the pen—I’m with you on that NL.

        Things could change over the season; Solis comes on and A.J. Cole starts to toss a big league ball.

      • jd - Mar 17, 2014 at 5:04 PM

        It’s the right move. Clippard has been the best option out of the pen for 3 years now and it also let’s Storen regain his confidence in a slightly less stressful environment. He also won’t feel as slighted loosing a slot to Clippard the way he did last year when he lost his closer’s role to Soriano.

        I like the move as long as it’s not etched in stone. Sometimes the appropriate move will be to use Clip in the 7th (if the game is on the line) so I hope MW is not robotic in his managing methodology. I also hope that Soriano Closing is not etched in stone.

  18. Eugene in Oregon - Mar 17, 2014 at 4:58 PM

    Well, a lot of folks here have pointed out that Ross Detwiler needed more than one and a (kinda-sorta) half pitches to be a MLB starter and — for whatever reason — he never developed the additional pitch(es). If he embraces the role, which I have my doubts about, he can be a Tyler Clippard-type and have a successful big league career. I hope that’s the path he chooses.

    • NatsLady - Mar 17, 2014 at 5:00 PM

      It took Clip several years to accept his role. As recently as 2011 he still spoke wistfully of being a starter “some day.” Last year when he was asked about starting (or closing) he said he was happy where he was.

      • jd - Mar 17, 2014 at 5:07 PM

        Well, he’s making a good living in his role and he’s one of the best in the business at it. He wouldn’t have been a front line starter.

      • David Proctor - Mar 17, 2014 at 5:12 PM

        For a setup man, especially one still in arbitration, Clippard is EXTREMELY well paid. That probably helps ease the pain.

  19. letswin3 - Mar 17, 2014 at 5:10 PM

    I’m stoked. Det moves the BP up about 3 notches, and we won’t have to sit on the edge of our chairs the second and third times through an opponents lineup like we did when he started. Moreover, he’s been moved to a position where he can excel. He will give the team a dependable lefty, with the ability to go 2 or 3 full innings, and even a spot start, if needed. He might even pitch himself into the discussion about the closer role in ’15 … where he can indeed earn the bigger bucks. The 5th starter spot has at least two remaining legitimate candidates, with depth just waiting to be called upon. This is a win/win for everyone involved.

  20. zmunchkin - Mar 17, 2014 at 5:12 PM

    Thanks to early season off days, the #5 starter won’t be needed until the April 14 game against the Marlins. Would not surprise me if the decision on the number 5 starter is not made when the Nats break camp. Allows Williams a little more time to evaluate who the last BP guy will be.

    • Section 222 - Mar 18, 2014 at 12:42 AM

      Actually, we’ll need a fifth starter on Sunday, April 6. After pitching Opening Day, Stras can start again on April 5, but Gio, assuming he starts on April 2, won’t be ready to go again until April 7. That’s the second off day, so he’ll pitch on April 8. After Gio and JZnn (Apr. 9), Stras could actually go again on April 10. The fifth starter could be pushed back as late as Apr. 12 for his second start. Hopefully those who are saying the Det announcement must mean they feel good about Fister being ready are correct.

      It won’t be long now!

      • zmunchkin - Mar 18, 2014 at 7:28 AM

        Good catch. I forgot to adjust for the placement of the off days. The day off after opening day is always a bit fun,y with the ordering.

      • Section 222 - Mar 18, 2014 at 7:43 AM

        Right! That’s one of the reasons I like it when we open the season away. After our Opening Day here I want more baseball right away. Plus, the chance of snow is incrementally reduced!

  21. nats128 - Mar 17, 2014 at 5:28 PM

    I still believe the Nats need a good RH outfielder off of the bench. I would never suggest Justin Maxwell however that is the type of player the Nats need. Speed, defense and can only hit LH. Perfect for the 6th outfielder.

  22. natinalsgo - Mar 17, 2014 at 5:36 PM

    NatsLady, jd, Doc and many others with good analysis on where this is heading.

    Could Thom Loverro’s prediction 2 weeks ago of a Storen trade happen? Could you include in a trade a package with another odd man out?

    This Det announcement shoukdnt have caught anyone by complete surprise unless they weren’t paying attention. The Nats had a need to create the hard throwing lefty in the pen and Solis wasn’t ready. Det is.

  23. Faraz Shaikh - Mar 17, 2014 at 6:10 PM

    WOW I am surprised they did this. I thought they would not do move RD to bullpen.

  24. sjm308 - Mar 17, 2014 at 6:29 PM

    Let me join with lots of you in agreeing with this move and also pleased with how early it came in camp. I am sure Det is not happy but this does make us a stronger club. Natslady is the only one to mention him but if you look at C. Young’s numbers this spring, they are just as good if not better than both Roark or Jordan. I, like her, hope he takes that minor league assignment.
    I have always thought that you just could not ignore the numbers Roark put up both in the big leagues and in the minors last year. While he has shown he can handle the bullpen I think he should be the # 5 starter, send Jordan to AAA to be ready when needed and hope that Young joins him.
    The number 7 member of the pen should be Ayala and not just for sentimental reasons. He is another veteran who can help Storen continue to grow. I love Garcia but he has just not dazzled me this spring. Mattheus will be back sooner or later as I think he has learned something with these last two injuries about not taking stuff for granted. Barrett will also be pitching in the big leagues soon and that pitching train is just not slowing down.
    One last thing – there is no way this was Williams call. I am pretty sure that he and McCatty did meet with Rizzo and that the decision was settled by all of them. Again, I like that they made this decision quickly and that can only help Det settle into his role and also give Roark, Jordan and Young more focus as they show what they have.

    One question – If Fister is not ready, do you yoyo Detwiler back into a starters role? I personally don’t think so. People keep saying that he can start later if needed but its a real mindset and the preparation for starting is totally different then relieving, not to mention the strain on the arm. I think if Fister can’t go they have 3 guys (Roark, Jordan, Young) and can chose two of them. Let Det have the ability to settle into this new role.

    Go Nats!!

  25. realdealnats - Mar 17, 2014 at 7:49 PM

    Yessirreee. Been hoping for this all Spring Training. Strong left hander out of the pen for all the reasons stated many times before.

    Roark as the gritty, resilient #5.

    Taylor Jordan pitches every fifth day in AAA. Ready to come on if needed.

    Solis, Cole, others putting in the work getting ready to step in sometime down the line.

    Depth depth depth.


  26. MicheleS - Mar 17, 2014 at 7:57 PM

    This makes me sad. Det looks like all my cousins, and lord knows I root for him (DUDE, eat something, gain some muscle/weight and get some stamina). This says to me that they don’t think he has the stamina to get through 1 or maybe 2 turns in a line up. Sigh..

    I kind of hope Roark gets the 5th spot, Other than that one start against STL, he was good, I felt that Taylor wore down to quickly last year. And he started in Potomac last year, I think he could use more seasoning in AAA.

    Oh and for the love of God, please stop with the Storen Trade stuff. No Offense, but Soriano will never give me a good solid feeling as a closer and after next year (THE LORD WILLING) he is not on this team. We need Storen b/c lets face it, Clipp has been ridden like the horse that he is and I don’t want his arm to fall off. Sorry, unless we get blown away for a Storen offer, we don’t need to trade him (he is cheap compared to what some others are making). and we need a CLOSER FOR NEXT YEAR (IT CAN BE CLIPP OR DREW).

    I am intrigued by Barrett. That’s all I will say at this point. but I like our farm system. it’s not great but it’s doable for now and Rizzo can re stock it in the next few drafts.


    • Eric - Mar 17, 2014 at 8:20 PM

      Let’s hope the start of baseball and persistent warm weather coincide…

      Not that I’d mind a weekly solid snow storm up until that point, though πŸ˜‰.

    • NatsNut - Mar 17, 2014 at 9:06 PM

      Totally agree with you Michele on the Storen trade talk. I think he’s got enough distance from Game 5 now, a fresh start with a new manager, and Soriano on his way out to make me think he could really bounce back this year and work his way back to closer. Or if not, Clippard. But no way do they trade him away.

    • sjm308 - Mar 17, 2014 at 10:11 PM

      Besides a great post – how great it is to just see you writing again!!

      • natsfan1a - Mar 18, 2014 at 9:11 AM

        I second that emotion.

  27. TimDz - Mar 17, 2014 at 8:21 PM

    What about Det in the closers role in 2015?

    He is typically lights out first time through a lineup, throws gas and has swing and miss stuff….

  28. Eugene in Oregon - Mar 17, 2014 at 8:40 PM

    Forgive me if this is posted elsewhere, but I was listening to MLB radio network in the car and they were speculating that Ross Detwiler might be a fit for the A’s (as a starter). Not saying it could or should happen, just passing along a Nats-related tidbit from the radio.

  29. dgourds - Mar 17, 2014 at 9:56 PM

    Wooooo-hoooooooo! I’ve been pushing strong on this forum for Roark to be #5 since last season. I truly believe in him. And I have a lot more confidence in Detweiler out of the pen than I do Storen at this point. This makes our starting rotation and bullpen much better. Now let’s send Taylor Jordan to AAA, figure out the final bench, and go to New York to sweep the Mets to open the season!

  30. Steady Eddie - Mar 17, 2014 at 10:53 PM

    I agree with all the commenters that this is the right move but one thing I haven’t seen is the thought that sending him to the pen is not necessarily the long-term decision. There’s been a lot written this spring about Det’s efforts to develop more consistent and better offspeed stuff, so some of the thought behind this might be to give him the chance to develop it while he’s in a roster position where he doesn’t have to depend on that offspeed stuff so much in every appearance. This lets them see how the #5 choice works out for the first several weeks, see how Det’s offspeed stuff develops, how the other bullpen guys both in DC and Syracuse are working out, and just kind of play it by ear.

    If the decisions are not clear-cut, and they aren’t here, much as we all agree with this particular one right now, that kind of nimble and adaptive approach is exactly what they should be taking.

    • Eric - Mar 17, 2014 at 11:23 PM

      Interesting perspective… If nothing else, this move let’s them test either of two unknown entities while keeping a known entity in the wings.

      I also wouldn’t be surprised if Det retaining the 5 slot were always contingent on his progress developing offspeed pitches.

    • zmunchkin - Mar 18, 2014 at 7:29 AM


  31. kirbs3256 - Mar 18, 2014 at 10:24 AM

    I havn’t had time to read through all the comments, but I agree with the decision. He only has a fastball and a cutter. We saw before he got hurt that he was getting jumped all over. He is a perfect two innings shut down guy. I think Roark is the 5 starter but TJ is not far at all. An injury to stammen or Det and Roark is in the pen and TJ is #5.



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