Mar 28, 2014, 6:00 AM EST
The news that came out of Viera yesterday about Doug Fister could under no circumstances be considered positive. Just when it looked like the right-hander was on track to start the season on time, he was pulled from a minor-league game after only one inning with a strained lat muscle.
Fister will be examined today in Washington by team orthopedist Wiemi Douoguih, after which the Nationals will make a decision how to proceed.
Here’s a nickel’s worth of advice: Don’t take any chances here. Take the overly cautious route. There’s no sense trying to rush Fister back.
In some ways, it kind of felt like the Nationals were doing just that with Fister over the last two weeks. Despite missing three weeks with elbow inflammation, the right-hander was determined to start the season on time and pitch the Nationals’ April 6 game against the Braves. But that might have been asking too much of the 30-year-old.
Fister was trying to cram a month’s worth of spring training into three weeks. If all went well, he would have made his Nationals debut after only four spring outings, three of them in minor-league games. Could that have been done? Sure. Was it worth it to try to get it done? That’s debatable.
Would it have been the end of the world if Fister spent one more week in Florida, making one more preparatory start before joining his teammates around April 11 or so? Not in the least.
The Nationals need Fister for the long haul, not the short term. They acquired him from the Tigers over the winter because of his track record, counting on him to make 30 starts, pitch 200 innings and help anchor the back end of what already was one of baseball’s best rotations. But if he winds up making 29 starts and pitching 193 innings, no one would have any right to complain.
Besides, the Nationals appear to have a more-than-capable fill-in for Fister in the form either of Tanner Roark or Taylor Jordan. Both young right-handers pitched well last season in brief rookie stints, and both pitched well enough this spring to merit a spot in the Opening Day rotation.
The Nationals planned to choose one over the other as their No. 5 starter, sending the loser to Class AAA Syracuse to open the year. Now they simply can keep both in the big-league rotation until Fister is ready.
Are Roark and Jordan likely to be as good as a healthy Fister? Probably not. But each certainly looks capable of holding his own and giving his team a chance to win each time he takes the mound.
The Nationals are in such better position to deal with this kind of thing now than they were a year ago. Imagine what would have happened had, say, Dan Haren suffered a late-spring injury. Chris Young would have been part of the Opening Day rotation, slinging 84 mph fastballs up there and praying for the best. (Obviously, Haren wound up struggling big-time through the season’s first half, but it’s not like any potential replacement at the time would have been better.)
We spent so much time this spring wondering who would be the Nationals’ No. 5 starter, we might have forgotten that it was far more important to make sure they had a capable No. 6 starter ready to go in case of emergency. Turns out they indeed have one. Shoot, they’ve got a perfectly capable No. 7 starter in Ross Detwiler, if the need arises.
Taking all that into consideration, there’s simply no reason to try to rush Fister back. Even if the lat strain is deemed insignificant and he’s cleared to pitch again in a few days, the Nationals would be wise to take the slow-and-steady path here.
As much as they’d love to have Fister take the mound for them on April 6, don’t you think they’d much rather have him take the mound on May 6 — and beyond — with a healthy elbow, a healthy lat muscle and a right arm that has had ample time to get into regular-season shape?
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
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