Ross Detwiler‘s resume remains one of untapped potential, but for the 23-year-old lefty, a spot in the Nationals rotation lurks enticingly around the corner. The third-ranked prospect in the system going into the 2009 season, Detwiler went just 1-6. 5.00 in 15 big league appearances last year, but his power arm promises much, much more. Taken as the sixth-overall pick of the 2007 draft, the Missouri State product is capable of dominating hitters, as evidenced by his having closed the season by allowing just one run over his last two starts. Detwiler sat down with BP in early September, days before rejoining the big league club from a stint in Triple-A Syracuse.
David Laurila: How would you describe Ross Detwiler?
Ross Detwiler: I’m just one of the guys. I like to get here early every day and get my work in, so that I can have some down time to either play cards or go out and throw a Frisbee around the outfield before anybody hits BP. I like to get my stuff done early so I have time to relax, so the monotony of a 160-game season, or a 142-game season, doesn’t get at you too much.
DL: A lot of people may not realize how much of a grind baseball can be, nor do they know that the minor leagues are almost like an apprenticeship.
RD: You’re right. For home games, we get there about 1:30-2:00 o’clock every day for seven o’clock games. I think people don’t realize that we get there that early and get our work in. They think that we just show up at seven o’clock and play. And they hear “baseball” and think that it’s all glory, and that there is all kinds of money coming your way, but it’s definitely not that way in the minor leagues. Really, you pretty much pay to play. You’re making relatively little money and have to pay for your meals, and you don’t get much meal money at all. Somebody was actually just talking to me about the meal money, and it has apparently been the same since the 1980s or something like that. So, you’re almost losing money playing in the minor leagues, but it’s all for that one dream of getting up there.
DL: A lot was made of Stephen Strasburg’s signing bonus earlier this summer. What are your thoughts on that?
RD: When I signed, everybody said to me that the money’s not to be made with the bonus. It’s to be made in the big leagues. But who’s to say that any player doesn’t get hurt tomorrow and never steps on the field again? As a college player, that’s the only time you have leverage until you’re arbitration eligible, and that’s not until after three years in the big leagues.
DL: How important is communication on a baseball field?
RD: I can really only speak as a pitcher, because I haven’t played in the field since high school, but with a pitcher and a catcher, you get on the same page and are able to get on a roll. When there’s good communication, there’s a meshing where you know what you’re going to throw before the catcher even puts it down. That makes it a lot easier to pitch. If you learn them, you learn what they want to do, and you learn how they read the hitters. You figure out what’s going through their head, and why they call what they call. I was talking to Josh Bard, and he said that he doesn’t mind getting shaken off as long as you have a great reason to do it. So if you can learn the way that he’s thinking, you can think a different way, or you can think right along with him, about how to go about pitching to a hitter.
DL: You’ve talked about the importance of working down in the strike zone.
RD: Our pitching coach, Steve McCatty, went up [to Washington], and he goes about things differently than any other pitching coach I’ve had. He’ll sit in the video room with you, and before you watch it, he’ll ask if you thought a certain pitch was a good pitch. You’ll have to recall back to how you threw it, and where you think it was, and then he’ll show you on film that it wasn’t as low as you actually thought it was. In that sense, the way that he teaches made me realize that I wasn’t down in the zone that much, and that’s why everything was getting hit hard. That’s something that magnifies as you move up through the levels.
DL: Does your stuff play better down in the zone?
RD: You know, I’m not even sure. I don’t see movement from my end. But if I’m throwing a sinker, you definitely want to keep that down, because it gets flat as it raises up. Other than that, it’s just a lot easier to hit when the ball is higher.
DL: You’ve gotten a few opportunities with the big league club. What has most surprised you during your time in the National League?
RD: Just really how different the game is up there. The pace is different and every mistake is magnified so much. That’s not something you really think about. You think that baseball is a game that you’ve been playing for all these years, but it just seems like it’s a lot different game up there.
DL: Did the one appearance you made in 2007 make this year’s call-up any easier?
RD: The best thing I can take out of 2007 is not even pitching, but just sitting there in the bullpen and listening to all of the guys talk about how they go about hitters. We had Jon Rauch and Chad Cordero, and Joel Hanrahan was there as well. I think that was [Hanrahan’s] first or second year, so he was kind of on the same page I was. We’d sit there and listen to those guys talk about how they were pitching, and about how they get people out, because they’ve done it for that many years.
DL: Who is the most cerebral pitcher on the Nationals’ staff?
RD: You know, everybody is different. It’s kind of funny how people go about it. Everybody goes about it such a different way, but you pretty much get the same result. I talk to John Lannan a lot, and he’s a really good guy to talk to, because he thinks that he doesn’t have great stuff, he just pitches with it. But he’s obviously got great stuff, or he wouldn’t be in the position that he’s in. He goes out there and dominates almost every outing. At one point when I was there, I think that over three or four starts, we didn’t win a game unless he was pitching.
DL: Can you learn more talking to other left-handers than you can right-handers?
RD: Not really. It works either way, but it kind of depends on what you’re talking about. I’ve talked to Ron Villone a bit about holding runners, because he’s one of the best at doing that. In that sense, it’s a lot easier to talk to a left-hander, but just overall pitching, throwing the ball to the plate, I don’t think it’s any different talking to a righty or a lefty, because everybody has different stuff, and everybody goes about it a different way.
RD: Hey, Jim Abbott did it, and he had a great career. It just goes to show you that it doesn’t really matter what you have, or the hurdles that are in your way. As long as you work hard, you can earn yourself a chance to get there.
DL: You were born in St. Louis and grew up a Cardinals fan. Which pitcher from Cardinals’ history are you most similar to?
RD: I don’t really try to compare myself to any other pitchers, but even still, I just love watching Chris Carpenter pitch, because he’s so effective and he goes deep into games every time. He’s really efficient with his pitches, and one day I hope to be that efficient, and not go five or six innings and then have to come out because of pitch count.
DL: Do you still follow the Cardinals?
RD: I’ve kind of gotten away from them a little bit since I’ve been playing. I’ll still check the scores every once in a while on the scoreboards at the stadiums, but I haven’t really been following them too much. I do think that a lot of the guys still watch their teams, though, especially when the season is over and they’re able to go home, and their favorite team is still playing. Just the other day, there were some people watching a couple of games, and that was more for the teams that were playing, not really so much in a pure baseball sense.
DL: Would there be more pressure on you playing for the team that you grew up rooting for?
RD: I think there might be. I kind of got into a rut this year, because I think I was trying too hard almost. I was trying to make everything too perfect, and I got into a lot of trouble there, so I think that if I were to play for the Cardinals, I’d probably have to fight that a little more than I do here.
DL: Childhood loyalties aside, do you think it is easier to break into the big leagues on a team that has relatively low expectations?
RD: It actually might be a little harder, because you know in your heart that you can be a good team, and once the pieces come together you will pull out of it and have good seasons. There will be playoffs in the future for the Nationals, and you want to prove to everybody that it will be sooner rather than later. I think you fight that a lot more on a team that’s not doing as well.
DL: Any final thoughts?
RD: Well, I go to a lot of hockey games in the off-season. I’m a big [St. Louis] Blues fan, and hopefully they’ll have a good season. They lost in the first round of the playoffs last year, but they were a young team, and they’re getting older now, so as they mature, they’ll make another playoff run. It’s all about maturing and getting better as a team, which is pretty much what we’re doing in Washington. It’s just a matter of time.