For the first time in his brief Nationals career stunted by injury, Doug Fister took the mound at Nationals Park on Tuesday night. Fans had watched his first two starts of the season — one strong, the other a clunker — on television or perhaps witnessed some of his injury-abbreviated spring training. But against the Cincinnati Reds, Fister got the opportunity to show the fans of his new team what he is capable of doing in person.
Fister turned in a second straight solid start, allowing two runs on six hits over seven innings. He walked only one batter, struck out five and induced 12 groundouts. Pitching in front of the 26,455 in attendance to see the 9-4 Nationals’ win felt like normal to Fister.
“It’s funny but it feels like home,” he said. “Everybody makes it such a family atmosphere with the club that we have and the teammates. It’s my first one here, but it feels like I’ve pitched here before. That’s a comforting feeling.”
And the Nationals will find comfort in Fister if he continues pitching like he has his past two starts. He has allowed three runs over his past 14 innings. Fister reached 109 pitches on Tuesday, pushed by Manager Matt Williams even though he allowed two hits and a run in the seventh inning.
“No issues,” Williams said. “He felt good [Tuesday] so nothing lasting from the [lat muscle] injury. I think he’s well on his way to getting back into the swing of things. He pitched really well.”
Fister also showed that he is more than simply a pitcher but also a good all-around athlete. He reached on an error, showed off his speed by scoring from first on a single and two-base error, and displayed his ability to handle the bat well with a good sacrifice bunt and solid contact on the error-inducing groundball.
“He takes pride in all of that,” Williams said. “He wants to be a complete player as a pitcher. He has all the tools to help himself out on the mound to drive a run or move a guy over to get in scoring positions. He’s got all of those talents in him and he’s displayed it.”
Fister’s stuff may not be at the same velocity as other starters in the Nationals’ rotation, but he gets hitters out. Against the Reds, his sinker moved late, zipping across the plate almost sideways away from left-handed hitters. His undersold secondary pitches are good, too. He is aggressive and invites contact.
“The gun doesn’t say that he’s throwing that hard but with his height, his angle it’s a lot harder than it looks,” center fielder Denard Span, who faced Fister often in the American League Central division. “With his angle, his ball is moving very good. [Tuesday] he was able to do what he does. I watched him in Detroit and Seattle do that a lot. He’s one of those guys where you go back to the dugout just shaking your head — I don’t want to say you think he’s not that good — but you go back and look at the video and you’re like, ‘That ball actually moved four or five inches.’ ”
Despite his strong performance on the mound, Fister still believes he has to improve.
“It’s a constant battle for me trying to keep the ball down and mainly keeping the sinker down and moving,” he said. “It’s always something that I’m working on. It’s not something that I’ve ever reached. When I get complacent with it, it gets up in the zone and hit pretty hard. That’s always a focus of mine and how I approach the game.”
Fister is known to work quickly, too, and that is an advantage to the defense while putting an opposing hitter on his heels. Last season, the Nationals had four of the top 13 fastest working pitchers, according to FanGraphs.com: Dan Haren (19.2 seconds in between pitches, 6th best in baseball); Stephen Strasburg (19.7 seconds, 8th); Jordan Zimmermann (19.9 seconds, 10th) and Gio Gonzalez (20.1 seconds, 13th). Add Tanner Roark (20.6 seconds, 25th best this season) and (Fister (19.8 seconds, 9th best last year) to that mix, and the Nationals have a rotation that makes opposing lineups uncomfortable.
“That’s what you want as a defender, a guy that’s quick,” right fielder Jayson Werth said. “On the other side of the coin, that’s really as a hitter what you don’t want. That’s great. Hopefully the rest of the guys can take note, learn from [Fister], apply some things. It helps out the offense, too.”
FROM THE POST
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 5, Columbus 3: Taylor Jordan allowed two runs on three hits over three innings and left after feeling arm soreness. The Syracuse bullpen combined to allow on run over the next six innings. In his second game back from the disabled list, Christian Garcia fired two scoreless innings. Michael Gonzalez struck out two in a scoreless ninth. Brock Peterson homered and finished 2 for 4. Steve Souza Jr. went 2 for 5 and is hitting .349.
Trenton 5, Harrisburg 1: Brad Meyers allowed five runs, three earned, over three innings. James Simmons fired five scoreless innings. Michael Taylor went 0 for 4 but drove in the Senators’ lone run. Quincy Latimore went 3 for 4. Brian Jeroloman and Jason Martinson each had two hits.
Lynchburg 10, Potomac 1: Kylin Turnbull allowed five runs on nine hits over four innings. Wander Suero allowed another five runs. Shawn Pleffner went 2 for 3 with an RBI. Stephen Perez walked twice and had a hit.
Hagerstown 11, Lexington 4: Nick Pivetta allowed three runs on nine hits over 5 1/3 innings. Ryan Ullman fired 2 2/3 scoreless frames. Wilmer Difo went 2 for 5 with two home runs and four RBI. James Yezzo, Carlos Lopez and Brennan Middleton each drove in two runs. Middleton also collected three walks and Yezzo had three hits.