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Thom Loverro: The Nationals' season now rests on the arm of Detwiler

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The dreams and hopes of the 2012 National League East champion Washington Nationals rest Thursday on the brain of former general manager Jim Bowden.

Go ahead. Take a deep breath.

Whether the Nationals -- after sleepwalking through an 8-0 loss in Game 3 of the National League Division Series on Wednesday to the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park -- will get to play a fifth and deciding game depends on the arm of left-hander Ross Detwiler, Bowden's first-round pick in the 2007 draft.

Five years later -- with the Cardinals now up 2-1 in this best-of-five series -- we get to see whether that commitment and investment pay off, whether Bowden was right.

Detwiler finally emerged as a legitimate major league starter this season and was one of the Nationals' better pitchers in the second half of the season. He finished the year with an 10-8 record and a 3.40 ERA but surrendered eight earned runs combined in his final two starts, both defeats.

One of those was a 10-4 loss to the Cardinals in the final home game of the regular season.

"I try not to remember that one," Detwiler said. "I'm just really going out there trying to throw strikes, trying to get ahead in the count."

Sounds like a Cardinals pitcher to me.

Here is his plan for success this time:

"Attack the zone, get ahead, make them hit my pitches, keep the ball down, hit some ground balls and let my defense work behind me."

Sure he's not a Cardinals pitcher?

He might want to pass this plan on to his fellow Nationals pitchers. Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and now Edwin Jackson, who gave up four runs on eight hits in five innings Wednesday, turned in perhaps the worst succession of three starts this season for the Nationals.

Of course, those three dismal starts have armed members of the Stephen Strasburg Society of Baseball Righteousness, Bob Costas and Jim Kaat, co-chairmen.

The Nationals are paying for their sins, society members will declare. If Strasburg were on the mound, his mere presence would make the St. Louis hitters cower in fear.

Never mind that anyone who actually watched Strasburg pitch in his final five starts of the season -- 13 earned runs in 26 innings -- could see the savior had a tired arm. He had pitched nearly twice as many major league innings as he had in his entire brief career and was perhaps the least effective starter on the staff at the end.

The best way Strasburg could have helped the Nationals on Wednesday was with his bat.

The free-swinging Nationals lineup continues to struggle, leaving 11 runners on base and going 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position Wednesday. You can't do that and have bad starting pitching.

When that happens, you find yourself in the hands of Ross Detwiler -- and praying Jim Bowden was right.

Examiner columnist Thom Loverro is the co-host of "The Sports Fix" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN980 and espn980.com. Contact him at tloverro@washingtonexaminer.com.

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