— On Tuesday night, under a starless sky at Citi Field, Ross Detwiler pitched exactly the way the Washington Nationals envisioned he would in 2007 when they drafted a beanpole left-hander out of Missouri State with the sixth pick. Five years later, and one week after the Nationals made him part of their rotation to start the season, Detwiler had arrived.
With five overpowering innings in a 6-2 Nationals victory, Detwiler handed the New York Mets their first loss and validated the Nationals' decision to include him in their starting rotation. He tossed five scoreless innings, retiring the final 10 hitters he faced and letting three balls escape the infield. He allowed two hits and a walk and struck out six.
Detwiler spotted his low-90s fastball in every corner of the strike zone and bewildered Mets hitters with his vicious slider.
Because Detwiler worked as a reliever this spring and had not been stretched out, he lasted only 71 pitches over five innings.
But during his time on the mound, he devastated the Mets. The first two batters he faced knocked hits off him, a double by Ruben Tejada and a single by Ronny Cedeno. Detwiler retired 15 of the next 16 hitters, yielding only a walk and allowing one ball out of the infield.
The Nationals retooled their starting pitching this winter, adding two high-priced acquisitions in Edwin Jackson and Gio Gonzalez and welcoming back Stephen Strasburg. No one would have guessed the best performance the first time through would come from Detwiler, the 26-year-old who had been there all along.
"He's competing and he's confident," Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty said, sitting in the dugout before the game.
Detwiler received offensive support from the first batter. Ian Desmond crushed Mets starter Dillon Gee's third pitch deep into the left-field seats. Jayson Werth smacked four hits for the first time as a National and drove in two runs.
He performed that feat — at least three hits and multiple RBIs in the same game — twice in all of 2012. Ryan Zimmerman drove in the 500th run of his career with a sacrifice fly in the eighth inning.
But even if he pitched just five innings, the night belonged to Detwiler.
" McCatty said. "'If you're happy with what you're doing, do what you want to do. But to me, this is something that you have got to do.' And he went home and did it. I thought that was pretty cool."
" Detwiler said. "Am I going to go somewhere else? Am I going to go to the 'pen? What's going to happen? I was talking with my agent. He just said, 'You have no leverage. Just take it for whatever is going to happen. There's no reason to fight it. You can't do anything about it. Just go with it.'"
Detwiler may have to wonder again soon. Chien-Ming Wang could return within three weeks, leaving Detwiler headed back to the bullpen. He will force the Nationals to find a spot for him if pitches the way like he did Tuesday, a night when Detwiler's future seemed so very bright.