You don’t like to call a game in August a “must win.” In reality, Thursday’s nights matchup for the Washington Nationals against the cellar-dwelling Philadelphia Phillies was anything but. But having lost the previous two nights, and seeing their lead dwindle to 2 1/2 games ahead of the Atlanta Braves for first place in the N.L. East, no one on the Nats would mind winning the finale.
Behind Ross Detwiler’s very strong seven innings, and three hits from Adam LaRoche, including his 20th home run of the season, the Nats did just that: win. They took the finale of the three-game set from Philly 3-0, before 28,825 at Nats Park. The win keeps their lead over Atlanta at 2 1/2 games due to the Braves trouncing of the Miami Marlins, 6-1.
Detwiler was superb. He got through some early game jitters unscathed, with multiple base runners in both the second and third innings, then cruised the rest of the way, retiring his final 14 batters of the night. In total, the lanky lefty allowed three hit sand two walks, striking out three. He relied heavily on his nasty power sinker to generate 11 ground ball outs against just three fly outs. Of his 88 pitches, 78 were fastballs.
The win ups Detwiler’s record to 6-4 and lowers his ERA to 3.02, second best of the starters now to Jordan Zimmermann.
“I was real proud of Det. He was outstanding,” manager Davey Johnson said. “He had outstanding sink. They couldn’t center on it. A lot of ground balls. Trying to get down on it, [the Phillies] hit some pop ups. But that was dominant. He’s still so young up here. His pitch count, once he’s settled in here and has got a bunch of wins, I’ll be letting him go further. But that was just an unbelievable outing.”
Detwiler reaped the benefit of the victory largely due to LaRoche (3-for-4, 2 RBIs). His solo home run off Cole Hamels (L, 11-6, 3.34) started the second inning and he drove in another in the third, singling with two runners on courtesy of some poor fielding by the Phillies infield. Jayson Werth (1-for-3, walk) slapped a ground ball to the right side to bring in the Nats third run in his first game back after being activated from the disabled list.
Both teams threw runners out at the plate. Bryce Harper nailed John Mayberry, Jr, trying to score from second on a base hit by Michael Martinez in the second, and Mayberry returned the favor in the sixth, gunning down LaRoche by several steps on a line drive out to short right by Steve Lombardozzi.
THE TAKEAWAY: Davey might have to re-think his description of Detwiler’s performance, because these types of outings are more the norm for Detwiler these days than “unbelievable.” Ever since he changed his mechanics away from the over-exaggerated cross-body motion, Detwiler has been able to throw much easier — and harder — than previous. He has great natural sink and movement on his fastball, and the easier throwing motion allows that to shine.
Since rejoining the starting rotation on June 24, Detwiler’s posted a 2.55 ERA in seven starts. Of the seven, he’s allowed zero or one earned run in four of them.
“It’s a slow process, and you build on positive outings,” Johnson said. “And he’s had a lot of positive outings. He’s grown a lot. At the end, he’s giving me that extra inning. He used to, after he’d thrown about 80 pitches or something, had trouble going that extra mile. He tried to do too much instead of just staying within himself. And he was just the same guy all the way through the seventh inning. And it’s fun to watch.”
THE GOOD: Detwiler. LaRoche. And Sandy Leon went 2-for-4 too.
THE BAD: After going 2-for-4 last night. Bryce Harper took another 0-fer against lefty Hamels.
THE UGLY: The official scorer. I don’t usually quibble too much, but both “hits” in the third inning that preceded LaRoche’s RBI knock should have been ruled errors by Phillies second baseman Chase Utley and shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Routine plays on hard hit balls that the fielders booted.
THE STATS: 8 hits, 3 BBs, 11 Ks. 1-for-8 with RISP, 7 LOB, 1 DP. E: Zimmerman (8), no DPs.
NEXT GAME: Friday, Aug. 3. An old-fashioned true doubleheader. John Lannan (1-0, 2.57) faces Brad Hand (2012 debut) in the 4:05 pm game, while Gio Gonzalez (13-5, 3.27) hosts Josh Johnson (6-7, 4.04) in the nightcap.
NATS NOTES: To make room for Werth, the team placed RHP Henry Rodriguez on the 15-Day D.L. with back issues. Johnson said in his pre-game that it was most likely going to be OF Tyler Moore, a right-handed hitter, to be optioned upon Werth’s return so that the younger player could play everyday in the minors. But a balky back for Rodriguez allowed Moore to stay on the active roster.