Before being traded to the Nationals in early December, the little that Doug Fister knew about his new team was learned when the Detroit Tigers faced them last season in spring training and interleague play. He had met some of the players — including first baseman Adam LaRoche, who knows perhaps everyone in baseball — but had no strong connections. At NatsFest on Saturday, Fister got the chance to meet 17 teammates, including some top minor league prospects.
“It’s been a fun ride,” Fister said. “I’m looking forward to (the season).”
Fister, 29, has been traded once before, in 2011 from the Seattle Mariners to the Tigers, but that trade came at midseason. This time, Fister has time to settle into his new surroundings and get to know his teammates.
“It’s easier in that I don’t have to pack up an apartment and be ready to leave in the next day or so,” he said. “I have the offseason to take care of getting anything in line that I need to get in line. And I’ve had tons of text messages and calls from the guys. I’m looking forward to it. They’ve been welcoming me with open arms. I can’t complain one bit about it.”
After taking time off, Fister began throwing off the mound about a month ago. “I’m right where I want to be,” he said. That planning, however, doesn’t include reading up on a new league of hitters. He believes his time with Wilson Ramos and his fellow catchers will help more.
“I don’t look at numbers at all,” he said. “I don’t look at too much of a scouting report. I really go off of what I see and what I feel. So it’s going to be important for me to meet all the catchers and be on the same page and let them understand how I attack hitters.”
And Fister will certainly attack hitters differently than his fellow starters. Over the past two seasons, only five pitchers have posted better groundball percentages than Fister’s 52.9 percent: Trevor Cahill (59 percent), A.J. Burnett and Justin Masterson (56.7 percent), Lucas Harrell (54.6 percent) and Rick Porcello (54.2 percent). One one Nationals starter had a groundball rate of more than 50 percent last season: Stephen Strasburg (51.5 percent).
Also, Fister, like Dan Haren last season, offers a different look for batters. Not only is he 6-foot-8, but Fister’s fastball averaged 88.8 miles per hour last season, according to FanGraphs.com. The rest of the starters (and potential starters) — Strasburg (95.3 mph), Jordan Zimmermann (93.9 mph), Tanner Roark (92.6 mph), Gio Gonzalez (92.6 mph), Ross Ohlendorf (92.3 mph), Ross Detwiler (92.1 mph), Taylor Jordan (92 mph) — all threw significantly harder.
“That’s a great attribute to have for us,” Fister said. “I feel like I can mix in and to offset some of that stuff, and mix in a different look for the hitters. Being able to use the defense that we have. We’ve got a great defense, a lot of Gold Glove candidates and recipients out there, so I’m looking forward to playing with them behind me. Stras, the guy throws 100 and being able to spot up well. For me, that’s kind of the thing to offset between pitchers.”
Fister’s fellow pitchers are looking forward to having him on the rotation. He has logged 200 innings in two of the past three seasons, posted a 3.30 ERA in that span and has a 2.98 ERA in 48 1/3 postseason innings. He has also pitched alongside two of the past three American League Cy Young Award winners, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer.
“A veteran arm who’s got postseason experience and knows how to throw 200-plus innings every year and we’re excited to have him as part of the rotation,” Strasburg said. Added reliever Tyler Clippard: “Our pitching staff is ridiculous. Our starting five, bullpen, top to bottom, I’d put our arms up against anybody in the league. That’s what it takes this day in age to win championships and it’s pitching. And we certainly got it. I’m excited.”