Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ross Detwiler was roughed up by the Phillies last night.
After suffering a hip injury last winter that required major surgery, Detwiler missed more than half of the season and wound up making only eight big-league appearances (five starts). Within that timeframe, he went back on the DL with a recurrence of hip pain and returned in September only to pitch sporadically out of the bullpen until the Nats gave him two token starts the last week.
In the end, this was a wasted season for the Nationals' top 2007 draft pick. The club doesn't really know much more about his potential to be a big-league starter now than it did at this time last year. It didn't help that he never fully recovered from the hip surgery, leading to decreased velocity (his fastball ranged from 88 to 91 mph last night) and poor mechanics (Detwiler will work with Steve McCatty next spring on lengthening his stride to the plate, hoping to produce more velocity and less strain on his body).
"He's had pretty significant surgery there on his hip," Jim Riggleman said. "Steve and I were in the dugout pretty much from the first inning on really watching to see if he was OK. We checked with him every inning, and he said: 'I'm fine. My hip is fine.' But I don't know that he's totally gotten over that. I don't think his velocity's back to where he's going to be after an offseason of reconditioning without having to rehab from the injury. I think there's more velocity there than he's shown in his outings here."
What will Detwiler ultimately take from this season?
"Definitely a lot of patience," he said. "It was really my first surgery. I didn't know what it was going to take to be back. I thought I'd get back a lot quicker, but I'm feeling a lot better."
Where, though, does that leave the 24-year-old in the organization's short-term and long-term plans? No fewer than five current starters already rank ahead of Detwiler on the depth chart (Livan Hernandez, Jason Marquis, Jordan Zimmermann, John Lannan, Yunesky Maya) and Mike Rizzo stated clearly yesterday he wants to acquire another front-line pitcher this winter. That would bump Detwiler even further down the totem pole.
The Nationals aren't going to give up on a first-round draft pick only 3 1/2 years after he was drafted sixth in the country. But they certainly don't appear to be counting on Detwiler to play a significant role heading into 2011.
The scary thing is that Detwiler has actually had more success than several other pitchers the Nats have drafted in early rounds over the last four years. Colton Willems (first round, 2006) retired this year. Josh Smoker (supplemental first round, 2007) went 3-10 with a 6.50 ERA at low-Class A Hagerstown this year. Jack McGeary (the sixth-round pick in 2007 who got first-round money) owns a 5.05 ERA in 49 career minor-league games and had Tommy John surgery this summer. Aaron Crow (first round, 2008) of course never signed with the Nats and has proceeded to amount to very little in the Royals' farm system.
Yes, Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen emerged from the 2009 draft, but the fact remains that the Nationals haven't established a great track record on drafting pitchers over the last four years.
Perhaps Detwiler will come back fully healthy next spring, seize a spot in the rotation away from one of those other guys and go on to be a productive big-league pitcher. To this point, though, there have been very few indications he's likely to do that, culminating with this disheartening season for the lefty.