The Washington Nationals ' first four starters have been the key to the club's rise to the top of the NL East.
They're giving Ross Detwiler another chance to join that dazzling group.
Detwiler is scheduled to replace the ineffective Chien-Ming Wang in Washington's rotation Sunday for the finale of this three-game Beltway Series with the punchless Baltimore Orioles .
The Nationals (41-28) have a major league-best 2.96 ERA, with Stephen Strasburg , Gio Gonzalez , Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson each under 3.00 individually. Washington's .238 average and 3.8 runs per game both rank near the bottom of the league, so the rotation's success is driving the team's surprising status as division leader.
"It's unbelievable," manager Davey Johnson said. "It just shows you how good they've been going. I'm impressed, and I'm not easily impressed."
Jackson was the latest to turn in a strong performance, beating Baltimore 3-1 on Saturday. That came after Zimmermann's solid outing was squandered in a 2-1 loss in the series opener.
"That's a good team, and it starts with their starting pitching," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said.
The only area of concern in the rotation for the Nationals is the fifth spot. They're going back to Detwiler (4-3, 3.34 ERA) after Wang continued to struggle in Tuesday's 5-4 loss to Tampa Bay, allowing five runs in 3 1-3 innings.
Wang is 2-3 with a 6.10 ERA in five games - four starts - after opening the season on the disabled list.
Detwiler began 2012 at the back end of the rotation, going 3-3 with a 3.88 ERA in nine starts. However, an 8.16 ERA in his last three was reason enough for Johnson to move him to the bullpen.
The left-hander was sharp in six relief appearances, posting 7 1-3 hitless innings over his last three outings. He relieved Wang on Tuesday and retired 11 of the 12 batters he faced.
"He was dominating ... very aggressive after the hitters," Johnson said. "In his last two starts, he was pitching defensively, not attacking the hitters. So I think the stint in the bullpen, if anything, helped him."
One of those bad starts came against the Orioles on May 19. He was pounded for six runs and nine hits - two homers - in five innings of a 6-5 loss.
Detwiler is 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA in three career starts in the Beltway Series, and the Orioles (40-31) may be relieved to face him after totaling six runs and hitting .164 while losing four of five.
No. 3 hitter Chris Davis went 0 for 4 again Saturday and is now hitless in his last 28 at-bats, while J.J. Hardy is stuck in a 2-for-31 slump.
Wilson Betemit has been one of the few bright spots lately, going 12 for 26 in his last nine games. He has a .418 average in his past 23 meetings with Washington.
Jake Arrieta (3-9, 5.83) gets the ball looking to continue the dramatic improvement from his last two starts after going 0-6 with a 9.34 ERA in his previous seven.
The right-hander ended that losing streak by posting nine strikeouts in seven innings of a 7-1 win over Pittsburgh on June 13. He lost again five days later, but all the runs he allowed over seven innings came on a grand slam while the Orioles were one-hit by R.A. Dickey in a 5-0 loss to the New York Mets .
Arrieta was sharp May 18 against Washington, allowing one run and six hits with nine strikeouts in seven innings of Baltimore's 2-1, 11-inning win. Despite that performance, he's 0-1 with a 7.20 ERA in three career starts against the Nationals.
|June 17, 2012||Ian Desmond||Day-to-Day||Oblique soreness|
|June 11, 2012||Roger Bernadina||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained right hamstring|
|June 10, 2012||Bryce Harper||Day-to-Day||Sore back|
|June 06, 2012||Henry Rodriguez||15-Day DL||Strained right index finger|
|May 30, 2012||Carlos Maldonado||15-Day DL||Lower back strain|
|May 27, 2012||Chad Tracy||15-Day DL||Groin soreness|
|June 13, 2012||Brian Matusz||Day-to-Day||Bruised nose|
|June 13, 2012||Endy Chavez||15-Day DL||Strained right hamstring|
|June 12, 2012||Endy Chavez||Day-to-Day||Left game - Strained right hamstring|
|June 07, 2012||Adam Jones||Day-to-Day||Left game - right wrist soreness|
|June 05, 2012||Wilson Betemit||Day-to-Day||Illness|
|May 30, 2012||Nick Markakis||15-Day DL||Broken hamate bone, right wrist|
BALTIMORE (AP) -- A tense interleague series between two neighboring teams with exceptional pitching staffs was decided by a timely swing from a player who almost got the day off.
Matt Wieters hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning to interrupt Baltimore's agonizing offensive struggle, and the Orioles squeezed past the Washington Nationals 2-1 Sunday.
Baltimore appeared headed for its third shutout loss in six games before Adam Jones led off the eighth with a single off Sean Burnett (0-1) and Wieters drove an 0-1 pitch over the center-field wall.
"It felt great," Wieters said. "Everyone was battling up there, trying to grind through at-bats to get a run, and to finally get one was great."
After Wieters gave Baltimore the lead, he sealed the victory in the ninth. With one out, Jim Johnson struck out Danny Espinosa and Wieters threw out Ian Desmond attempting to steal second base.
"Any out you can get, especially the 27th out, is huge," Wieters said.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter considered resting his workhorse catcher, who also played Saturday night, then decided against it.
"I came close to not playing Matt, with an off-day (Monday)," Showalter said.
Prior to the home run, the Orioles wasted several scoring opportunities and stranded eight runners over seven innings. Baltimore scored only five runs in the series and went 1 for 16 with runners in scoring position, yet still managed to win two of three.
"You win games with pitching," Wieters said. "And then it takes one big swing, or a couple of guys to get on and find some holes, and then you're right back in the lead."
The way the Orioles were hitting, it seemed unlikely they would mount a sustained attack against the Nationals. Fortunately, Wieters gave Baltimore everything it needed for another interleague victory.
"Clutch," teammate J.J, Hardy said. "I mean, to win a ballgame like that the way we've been swinging was something we needed. It just didn't seem like we were going to piece together a bunch of hits."
The Orioles finished 11-7 in interleague play and won five of six series.
Pedro Strop (4-2) got the final out in the eighth for Baltimore and Johnson worked the ninth for his 22nd save.
Ryan Zimmerman had the lone RBI for the Nationals, who scored five runs in the series. Washington was 34-2 when leading after seven innings.
The Nationals looked every bit like the team with the best ERA in the majors - except for that one pitch to Wieters.
"He just got a fastball over the heart of the plate," Washington manager Davey Johnson said.
"I tried to go with my strength and left the ball out over the plate," Burnett said. "He's a good hitter and made me pay for it."
Wieters' hit turned the series in Baltimore's favor. The Orioles won the opener 2-1, then lost 3-1 before taking the finale.
"We play a lot of close games, and our bullpen expects to get the job done in those situations," Burnett said. "Today I let one slip away."
Making his first start for the Nationals since May 25, Ross Detwiler allowed four hits and walked two in five innings. In his previous start against Baltimore on May 19, the left-hander gave up six runs. But that was at a point in the season when the Orioles scored 32 runs over a six-game span.
Jake Arrieta gave up one run and five hits in six innings, and it still took an unlikely comeback by the Orioles for him to avoid becoming the first 10-game loser in the big leagues this season.
Zimmerman snapped a 5-for-49 slump and gave Washington a 1-0 third-inning lead with a two-out single that scored Jhonatan Solano . Zimmerman, who had a cortisone shot in his ailing right shoulder before the game, went 2 for 4.
Detwiler retired his first seven batters and was cruising until the fourth, when Baltimore loaded the bases with two outs. Ronny Paulino hit a harmless fly ball to end the threat.
In the Orioles fifth, two singles and a groundout put runners on second and third with two outs for Jones, who hit a fly ball to deep left.
Bryce Harper led off the Washington sixth by turning a bouncer up the middle into a dash-for-second double, but Arrieta worked out of trouble by getting Desmond to hit a two-out popup.
Baltimore's frustration continued in the seventh, when Hardy grounded out with runners on second and third and two outs.
NOTES: On Monday night in Colorado, Washington RHP Stephen Strasburg vies to become the first player in Nationals history to win seven consecutive starts. ... The Orioles open a two-game series against the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday. LHP Dana Eveland likely will begin paternity leave on that day, and it's possible that RHP Matt Lindstrom (finger) will be activated from the disabled list to fill out the Baltimore roster. ... Nationals closer Drew Storen , who had elbow surgery in April, hopes to make his season debut next weekend in Atlanta. ... Held out of the starting lineup in part because of an 0-for-28 slump, Baltimore's Chris Davis flied out as a pinch hitter. ... The Orioles have gone 17 straight games without a stolen base, their longest such streak since a 20-game run in June 1962.