Detwiler to bullpen as fifth-starter race narrows
Roark, Jordan, Young competing for final spot in Nationals rotation
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Nationals manager Matt Williams announced Monday that left-hander Ross Detwiler will start the season in the bullpen, meaning right-handers Tanner Roark, Taylor Jordan and Chris Young will battle for the fifth spot in the rotation.
"We'll make a decision out of those guys for that starting spot," Williams said.
Williams said it wasn't a tough decision to put Detwiler in the bullpen; it was a prudent one. Detwiler was not having a good spring, allowing five runs in seven innings. Furthermore, opposing hitters had a .412 batting average against Detwiler.
Detwiler does not necessarily have a defined role in the bullpen, according to Williams. He could be a long man, a lefty specialist or could pitch an inning or two. His first game as a reliever will be Wednesday night against the Astros.
There has been talk about Detwiler going to the bullpen since late last season. He has a 95-mph fastball that could be lethal to opposing hitters.
"It's a good move for our team. He provides something special out of the bullpen," Williams said. "… We don't feel like this is a demotion of any sort. We just feel we are a better team with him coming out of our bullpen. He is a power lefty, mid-90s lefty. It doesn't mean he won't start in the future, but we asked him to be ready to start the season in the bullpen."
According to Williams, Detwiler was not happy about the decision.
"But you wouldn't expect him to be, but I told him this is something that we feel is going to make our team better," Williams said. "We are here to win games and we are here to compete and play meaningful games in September and October. He is going to be a major part of that out of our bullpen."
With Detwiler out of the starting picture, the Nationals are still looking for the fifth starter. Roark was scheduled to pitch against the Tigers on Monday afternoon, but the game was rained out. Roark will pitch in a Minor League game Tuesday.
Roark has allowed four runs in eight innings, but he hasn't been helped by the severe winds that have hampered his throwing. He said he is ready to compete against Jordan and Young. If Roark doesn't win the job, he will most likely pitch in long relief.
"It's still good competition," Roark said. "I'm going to go out there and do what I like to do -- pitch with confidence, get outs, throw strikes. … I'm not worried about who I'm competing against or anything like that."
Jordan was pitching well until Friday, when he allowed four runs in three innings in a 12-6 loss to the Tigers.
Jordan was able to get through the first two innings without a blemish, but the third inning proved to be a problem as he allowed RBI hits to Torii Hunter, Victor Martinez, Austin Jackson and Nick Castellanos.
In that inning, Jordan also seemed to have a problem getting low strike calls by home-plate umpire Andy Fletcher.
"I wasn't very pleased with my outing," Jordan said on Friday. "I wasn't locating pitches very well. I wasn't getting the low called strikes that I should have. A lot of those pitches were borderline strikes, and none of them were called. I kept the ball up a little bit. They hit me around a little bit."
Williams said Jordan was beat on breaking balls, and he has been encouraged by the team to be more aggressive with his fastball.
"We are going to continue to encourage him to use [the fastball], because it's a good one. The ball sinks in the low to mid-90s. He needs to use it," Williams said.
Young, who is with the team on a Minor League contract, has also allowed four runs in eight innings. He recently said he was pain free, thanks to a procedure on his neck last season.
He missed most of the season with a pinched nerve in his neck. That injury would affect his shoulder as well. Young had nerve problems for at least four years. All that time, he thought it was his right shoulder that was giving him problems. The nerve in his neck wasn't fixed until last June.
After the season came to an end, Young was able to build his arm strength. Young wants to show the Nationals that he can be the pitcher he was several years ago. His best season was in 2006, when he went 11-5 with a 3.46 ERA for the Padres.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.