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Detwiler's finally found his spot with Nationals

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Sports,MLB,Nationals,Brian McNally

Reliance on fastball has boosted left-hander

He has been the forgotten man in the Nationals' rotation this season. Ross Detwiler needed a strong spring training and some good fortune to make the starting five, and even then he faltered early.

But with the second half well under way now, Detwiler, the No. 6 overall pick in 2007, has established himself as a key piece going forward and maybe ended any thoughts of adding another pitcher before the July 31 trade deadline. Entering Friday night's start against the Milwaukee Brewers, Detwiler is 5-3 with a 3.01 ERA. That's lower than both Gio Gonzalez (3.13), a National League All-Star this summer, and Edwin Jackson (3.73).

There were signs of this breakthrough last season when Detwiler, now 26, returned from a stint at Triple-A Syracuse and posted a 3.00 ERA in 15 games -- 10 of them starts, five as a reliever. But there were also questions about him continuing the adjustments that helped turn his career around.

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Nationals at Brewers
Ross Detwiler (5-3, 3.01 ERA) vs. Mike Fiers (3-4, 1.96 ERA)
When » Friday, 8:10 p.m.
Where » Miller Park, Milwaukee
TV » MASN2
Radio » 106.7 the Fan, WFED 1500, WHFS 1580
The Nats and Brewers continue a four-game series at Miller Park. Washington's batters have never faced Fiers, a 27-year-old rookie considered a long shot to make Milwaukee's rotation before the season. In fact, he didn't. Despite superb numbers at Double-A and Triple-A last season and a September recall, Fiers began the year in the minors again. But injuries and poor performance in the Brewers' rotation gave him another shot, and he has taken full advantage. Fiers has allowed four earned runs total in his last six starts. He hasn't been knocked from a game before the sixth inning since a June 3 start against Pittsburgh.

"[Detwiler is] throwing his fastball more. I think a lot of our pitchers are starting to do that more," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "When you have the stuff that they have -- 94, 95 miles per hour and the ball's not straight -- that's your best pitch. ... He can attack [opposing batters] and kind of force their hand to swing at the first pitch or else now they're behind."

Detwiler outperformed John Lannan in spring training and began the season in the rotation thanks in part to a hamstring injury to Chien-Ming Wang. But three rough outings in mid-May gave Wang the chance to slide back in when he was healthy. That lasted only about a month, however, and Detwiler was good enough in his relief role that the team gave him another chance. In his five starts since, he has allowed eight earned runs in 302Ú3 innings and just one in his most recent two appearances. Most important are the six walks he has allowed in those five games.

"That's the only way I'm going to get deep into games and especially in a situation where the bullpen's pretty taxed with the doubleheader [last weekend] and with the long game on Friday," Detwiler said Sunday. "It's something I figured I needed to do."

His confidence has grown, too. In the sixth inning of Sunday's 9-2 win over Atlanta, Detwiler insisted that manager Davey Johnson leave him in the game for the seventh inning. His reactionary response to being pulled was out of character. But with the bullpen tired and Detwiler's arm feeling fresh, he knew he could finish the job. He walked the first batter, Dan Uggla, but recovered to retire the next three batters, thanking Johnson upon his return to the dugout.

"Usually I don't get talked out of things like that," Johnson said. "He walks the first hitter. 'No, I'm staying.' And he thanked me after the game. But I thanked him. Who's thanking who? He's just turned into one heck of a pitcher."

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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