Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ross Detwiler will pitch for Team USA next month.
VIERA, Fla. -- Upon receiving a text message this morning from players union executive Tony Clark offering him a chance to pitch for Team USA in next month's World Baseball Classic, Ross Detwiler nearly responded with an immediate acceptance. Then the Nationals left-hander realized he might want to confirm this with his manager, pitching coach and GM first.
"The little kid in me wanted to say yes without thinking it through," he said. "But I came in, we all thought it through and it was still a yes. So I'm pretty happy about that."
Detwiler will leave Nationals camp March 4 and fly to Phoenix, where Team USA opens first-round pool play four days later. He's tentatively scheduled to pitch on March 9 against Italy, in relief of Giants right-hander Ryan Vogelsong.
Coming off a breakthrough season in which he went 10-8 with a 3.40 ERA, Detwiler becomes the second left-hander plucked out of the Nationals rotation to pitch for the U.S. squad. Gio Gonzalez was added to the roster two weeks ago, though he'll skip the first round in Phoenix and won't join his American teammates until a possible second-round game March 12 in Miami.
Though the departure of two members of their rotation could throw a bit of a wrench into their spring training plans, the Nationals didn't hesitate to let both Detwiler and Gonzalez go.
"Like I've said all along, we feel it's our duty and our obligation to put our best team forward that we can for Team USA," GM Mike Rizzo said. "We're honored that they want two of our starting pitchers to pitch for Team USA, and we're flattered about it. I know Ross is really fired up for it and really wanted to do it. We'll work around that schedule and make sure he's prepared for our major-league season."
Manager Davey Johnson said Detwiler will make two Grapefruit League starts before leaving camp: Feb. 26 against the Braves and March 3 against the Cardinals. He's allowed to throw up to 65 pitches in the first round of the WBC.
Detwiler's physical ability to throw that many pitches at that juncture of the spring is less of a concern than the intensity with which he'll need to pitch in a competitive tournament like the WBC, as opposed to the typical leisurely pace of a spring training game.
"The only issue that I have really with pitchers pitching in those kind of tournaments is the intensity of how you're going to throw," Rizzo said. "It's hard tell these supreme athletes you're only supposed to be throwing 75-80 percent of your regular routine when they've got an opposing batter ahead and you're wearing 'USA' on the front of your shirt. We're going to make sure they're prepared, both mentally and physically for the workload and the intensity, and we feel that this will be a good step in Ross' developmental curve."
How does Detwiler plan to approach this international appearance? He said he'll take a cue from his Game 4 NLDS start against St. Louis.
"I kind of go back to my playoff game, where I just tried to relax myself as much as possible, not overthrow," he said. "I think I'm going to kind of take that mentality in a little bit. Just let the ball work, don't overthrow the sinker, because then it stays straight and goes a long way. Maybe that? I don't know. I just have to figure it out when I get there."
This won't be the first time Detwiler has pitched for his country. A member of the 2006 World University Baseball Championship team while at Missouri State, he still keeps his title ring on his nightstand.
This latest honor caps a big offseason for the 26-year-old, who also got married and joined teammate Craig Stammen on a USO tour to Afghanistan with chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Martin Dempsey.
"I think I'm peaking a little early here," Detwiler said with a laugh. "I don't know if I'll be able to top this one. Definitely being able to go on the USO tour, it's kind of the same feeling having 'USA' on my chest when I go to play."