It could be a small point, but Monday night we might have actually witnessed where a still-young pitcher and his, um, more-experienced manager had a moment where they built a meaningful trust in one another. Statheads like me have a tendency to minimize the human contact part of the game, but that type of influence is still strong in Major League clubhouses, especially with "old school" managers like the Nats' Davey Johnson.
In the sixth inning of last night's 4-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks, starter Ross Detwiler of the Washington Nationals found himself in a situation. Detwiler had been cruising to that point, allowing just two hits and no walks, looking very much like the guy the Nats figured he could be when they selected him with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2007 draft.
The first batter he faced in the inning was opposite pitcher Joe Saunders, and he greeted Detwiler with an infield single. Detwiler got leadoff hitter Ryan Roberts to fly out to left and coaxed a ground ball from 2B Kelly Johnson to force Saunders at second. All-Star Justin Upton then took a 0-1 pitch to left for a single, prompting a visit from pitching coach Steve McCatty.
Detwiler and Chris Young fought to a 3-2 count, but Detwiler missed low, loading the bases with the free pass.
It was at that point that manager Davey Johnson had a big decision to make. With reliever Henry Rodriguez warmed up, should he leave his suddenly struggling starter in or go to the flame-throwing, but erratic, relief pitcher?
"I had a guy hot," Johnson said.
So it was an exercise it trust then, to let him work his way out of the jam he created? Johnson replied, "No doubt about it."
"I wasn't real happy with the 3-2 pitch [to Young]," Johnson said. "It was... I don't know what it was. I know it was 86 miles an hour. But I have no idea what it was. I was thinking about going [to relieve Detwiler], but I said, 'No, I'm gonna see what he's made of right here.'"
Detwiler threw a ball to start off slugger Paul Goldschmidt, but the big first baseman hit the next offering, a 91-MPH sinker, on the ground to third where Ryan Zimmerman made a nice play to get a force out at second base to end the inning.
For his part, Detwiler played it off a little bit. "I got myself into that jam by walking the guy with the changeup with a lead, so it's huge. It was a tough hop for Zim. He made a good play on it."
It was a big spot for Detwiler to show Johnson and others in the Nats organization how far he's progressed as a pitcher. But if Detwiler feels the opportunity he's had to get some starts in the waning part of the season gives him a leg up on any competition for the rotation next season, he isn't letting on. "I'm just going out for every game now. Next year is a long ways away. I don't feel like I'm auditioning at all."
Detwiler may not feel like he's auditioning, but with roster expansion coming in a few days, it's expected that the Nationals will recall starting pitchers Tom Milone and Brad Peacock from AAA Syracuse. And with several recent draftees pitching well in the minors, and two more high profile draft picks in Matt Purke and Alex Meyer under contract, the Nats are stockpiling young arms.
Detwiler is getting a chance to impress the Nats brass on the Major League level right now, with a spot in the opening day rotation being dangled in front of him. Maybe wiggling out of a two out jam in the sixth inning Monday night helps him in that pursuit. It sure showed his manager "what he's made of."