May 9, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
The Nationals have been touting Doug Fister as one of baseball’s most under-appreciated pitchers since the day they acquired him from the Tigers way back in December.
Tonight, we finally get a chance to see the right-hander on the mound, wearing a Nationals uniform, starting a big-league game.
A pair of spring training injuries — first elbow inflammation, then a strained lat muscle — delayed Fister’s debut five weeks. But he’s healthy at long last and ready to take the ball for tonight’s interleague series opener in Oakland.
So, what can be expected of Fister at this point? Well, the Nationals are trying to temper expectations, understanding it’s only one start and roughly the equivalent of a start anyone would make during the first week of April, not the second week of May.
Fister made four rehab starts over the last three weeks, building up his arm as though he was still in spring training. But his pitch total last week with Class AA Harrisburg was only 76. The Nationals will let him extend beyond that tonight, but not to drastic levels. It would be a surprise if Fister winds up throwing more than 90 pitches against the Athletics.
It won’t be surprising if the veteran hurler struggles somewhat with his command. At his best, Fister pounds the bottom half of the strike zone with sinkers, never giving in to opposing batters, forcing them to take hacks at his well-placed pitches.
Will Fister’s command be as sharp tonight as it would had he been pitching for the last month-plus? It’s possible, but it’s not probable.
One thing playing in his favor: Fister will be pitching in a familiar setting, not to mention close to home. His hometown of Merced, Calif., is a mere 114 miles to the southeast of Oakland, where he has pitched many times and enjoyed success. In six career starts at O.co Coliseum, Fister owns a 2.41 ERA.
Fister will get to make two starts on this West Coast trip, also scheduled to pitch Wednesday’s series finale in Arizona. By the time the Nationals return to D.C., we’ll have gotten a real good look at him. And he’ll have had time to begin to establish his identity with his new club.
It may be happening five weeks later than planned, but the Nationals are about to find out whether their biggest offseason acquisition was worth it.
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