Winning pitcher Ross Detwiler, who is fast becoming a rotation standout with a 3.25 ERA in 24 starts since last August, had time to answer two cheerful questions about his win before he was asked about Ian Desmond.
Ian Desmond? What about Desmond? Sure, team-leading 17 home runs, sits right over there, six lockers away. Why are you asking about Ian?
He’s going on the disabled list. The MRI exam shows a tear in an oblique muscle on his left side, the one he’s been enduring for the last six weeks.
“I had no idea,” said Detwiler.
Then, in a span of about 10 seconds, Detwiler went through a series of reactions that epitomizes an amazing and brutal Nats season of which Manager Davey Johnson says, “We’ve been lambasted.”
“You don’t want to lose him, an all-star shortstop,” said Detwiler. “But we’ll put the pieces together. That means J-Dub [Jayson Werth] will be back [in a couple of weeks], then Ian.”
Later, Detwiler said, “All year we’ve had to learn to let things roll off our shoulders, like the 11-10 loss on Friday night. You have to let it go.
“There’s one good thing about being so bad for so many years — you get to draft a lot of talent, teach it, build up depth and you end up with the kind of team we have.”
What the Nats seem to have, though no such thing is actually possible, is a bottomless roster of qualified replacements. Second baseman Danny Espinosa, who was a spectacular shortstop in the minors and is currently on a hot-hitting tear, will take over for Desmond. Rookie Steve Lombardozzi, who made only two errors in 122 games in the minors last year and has never made an error at second in the majors, will take over Espinosa’s job.
The net effect, at least for a few weeks? Probably not much. The pair of quick switch-hitting middle infielders would be an upgrade for many teams.
“That’s a big loss. Ian’s been unbelievable,” said Espinosa, one of four Nats with three hits on Sunday, including Ryan Zimmerman, who hit two home runs. “There was this sense that we almost had our whole team back.”
That doesn’t seem to be the script for the ’12 Nats, who have the best record in the National League despite a list of injuries — which have so far spared their stellar starting pitching — that must now qualify as biblical.
Perhaps no quality is more valuable in baseball’s long season than the ability to take a punch. The only way to learn to endure injuries, slumps and losses (such as Friday’s) that defy belief is actually to experience, then surmount them. Individually, players learn patience and develop a deep belief that, given time, their talent will speak and their critics will fall silent. As a team, the habit of defiant resiliency, which is much of what athletic “character” really is, gets born.