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Disappointing debut for Fister

May 10, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT

AP AP

It may not have felt like it, considering he didn’t make his season debut until May 9, but the Nationals rushed Doug Fister back from the disabled list.

After straining his lat muscle on the final day of spring training, Fister was back on the mound making his first rehab start April 17 at extended spring training. He pitched another game in Viera on April 22, then headed north to pitch for Class A Potomac on April 27. Five days later, Fister threw 76 pitches for Class AA Harrisburg, and that was it. He was cleared to come off the DL and make his first big-league start of the season Friday night in Oakland.

The results weren’t pretty. Fister was tagged by the Athletics for seven runs (five earned) in only 4 1/3 innings, serving up three homers during the Nationals’ 8-0 loss at O.co Coliseum.

How unusual was this outing by the 30-year-old right-hander? Well, start with the home runs. This was only the fifth time he gave up three homers in 128 career starts. It was only the sixth time he allowed seven or more runs.

And it wasn’t only the manner in which he gave up runs. It was even the manner in which he recorded outs. Over the last two seasons, Fister has recorded roughly 5-of-8 batted-ball outs on groundballs, one of the highest rates in baseball. Friday night, he recorded only 3-of-11 batted-ball outs on grounders.

In short: His sinker didn’t sink. At least, not nearly enough. Everything was up in the zone, belt-high, and he paid the price for it.

For all the discussion over the winter of the upgrade Mike Rizzo made at the No. 4 starter spot, Fister’s outing resembled the previous holder of his position far too much. In his 2013 Nationals debut, Dan Haren allowed six runs over four innings, serving up four homers. In his 2014 debut, Fister allowed seven runs over 4 1/3 innings, serving up three homers.

Now, this isn’t to suggest Fister is headed for a Haren-like season in Washington. Not in the least. His track record suggests he’ll be just fine over the long haul.

But we have to remember that Fister is just now feeling his way into the regular season. Those four rehab starts totaled fewer than 11 innings. Compare that to the workload three of his rotation mates got in Florida this spring: Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann each made five Grapefruit League starts, and each totaled at least 18 innings in exhibition play.

So perhaps it’s best to think of Friday night’s start as Fister’s final tune-up for the real thing. The result in the standings was all too real for the right-hander and the Nationals. But it’s probably not fair to judge Fister too harshly for a start that came in a big-league ballpark in Oakland but probably should’ve come in a minor-league park in Harrisburg.

  1. therealjohnc - May 10, 2014 at 6:10 AM

    It’s far too early to declare Fister the 2014 version of Jason Marquis, Edwin Jackson & Dan Haren. Although some will, just because it’s easy.

    I’m more concerned with the Nats offense once again serving as a huge “Get Well” card to a pitcher on the verge of losing his rotation spot. Yuck. Thankfully there’s a game today.

  2. Another_Sam - May 10, 2014 at 6:21 AM

    Just looked at the box score. Three hits. Three hits? And three errors?

  3. NatsLady - May 10, 2014 at 7:14 AM

    What is the average days/games missed for a lat strain? I’m not buying that Fister was “rushed” into service. I’m also not buying the “over amped” thing for a guy who’s pitched in I don’t know how many postseason games. He had a bad day, like every pitcher does. We’ve seen it with Gio, Stras, even JZimm. It’s unfortunate it came on his “debut,” but there you are.

    Like others, I’m more concerned with the errors and lack of offense against a “soft-tossing lefty.” We could have come back from down one run, we SHOULD have come back, just answer with a couple of runs in the second inning and Fister calms right down and gets into a groove.

    You might be interested in a couple of articles for Saturday morning reading.

    Can the bases be improved for safety?

    Striking out isn’t required

    • NatsNut - May 10, 2014 at 12:03 PM

      I took this to mean not necessarily a rush back from the lat strain itself, more like a rush back from the off-season. He didn’t have the opportunity to ramp up to more innings from zero like the others.

  4. laddieblahblah - May 10, 2014 at 7:14 AM

    I was ready for anything from Fister, good or bad, given the circumstances. What I was not ready for was total domination by Milone. He’s just not that good, and he has the track record to prove it.

    Weird things happen in baseball. The team that Tanner Roark shut out a couple of weeks ago ripped the Marlins and Fernandez for a 10 – 1 mauling, with Jose giving up a season high 6 runs, mostly on 2 HRs by Gyrko, who Roark had handled with ease.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - May 10, 2014 at 8:33 AM

      Well said. On any given day. Fister threw a stinker. This is the problem with any sinkerball pitcher when they aren’t down in the zone and not getting sink action.

      Let’s hope this was that 1 bad “shake the rust” outing.

  5. Doc - May 10, 2014 at 7:28 AM

    For a guy who has made of career of pitching down in the zone, indeed everything was up.

    Fister’s curve ball was like an uncle Charley batting practice toss.

    Of course against the soft-tossing Milone, with the 5.86 ERA, Nats did nothing. Lots of first pitch caught fouls.

    How’s the new fielding program working for you now Matt?

  6. Joe Seamhead - May 10, 2014 at 7:45 AM

    Congrats to Milone and Norris. They both seem like stand up guys. But, come on fellows! 3 hits against Tommy? The shame of it!

    Scott Hairston? There is no excuse for that guy starting on this team.None what so ever.And it’s not just because of the ones that he flubs with his mitt, it’s the ones that he doesn’t get to, and it’s because he can’t throw. If you can’t catch, can’t run the right route, and can’t throw, you’re not an outfielder.

    Espinosa? He’s in a slump. Again. I hope that he comes out of it, and soon.Same goes for Desmond.But folks? Walters is not an answer.

    As to Fister? Way too early to make any judgements.

    • karlkolchak - May 10, 2014 at 8:03 AM

      Bet Desmond is starting to wish he’d taken that $100 million contract extension.

      • manassasnatsfan - May 10, 2014 at 11:02 PM

        Perhaps

    • therealjohnc - May 10, 2014 at 8:22 AM

      Of course going for Hairston the morning after he got 2 of the Nats’ 3 hits, and the only extra base hit, is a little weird. As with many LF, Hairston is simply a bat against LHP who needs to find a place to stand. Heck, he’s far from the worst OF the Nats have trotted out there. Dunn, of course, was historically awful and Morse was simply lousy.

      • Brookstoor - May 10, 2014 at 8:34 AM

        Even on the balls Hairston caught he looked like crap out there. He looked panicky and got terrible reads on every single ball that came his way. He has one role and one role only: pinch hitter, only against lefties. If McLouth isn’t a little banged up that’s his spot last night, even if he goes 0 for 4.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 10, 2014 at 8:37 AM

        How many “can(s) of corn” did Dunn and Morse drop is at issue here, not the range, arm, and route to balls. If we discuss total defense I would take Morse over Dunn, Willingham and Hairston. Did you see Hairston’s throw home last night?

      • Joe Seamhead - May 10, 2014 at 9:03 AM

        Steve, I agree about Morse. He was an adequate LF who very rarely, if ever, dropped a ball when playing OF for the Nats. Michael had a good glove if he got to the ball. Remember when he had some incredible streak with no errors? Willingham is at best a mediocre outfielder, but he’s better then Scott Hairston.

  7. ehay2k - May 10, 2014 at 9:15 AM

    Morse and “if he got to the ball” is the coupling that explains the few errors he had.

  8. Joe Seamhead - May 10, 2014 at 9:17 AM

    Morse went from 2005 to 2011 without being charged with any errors. In 2011 he was charged with 6 errors, but 5 were at 1B. In his years with the Nats he was charged with a total of 2 outfield errors. I know that errors by themselves are not a good way to judge a fielder, but though he wasn’t great, the Beast was not a lousy outfielder, at least not compared to some we’ve had.

  9. Joe Seamhead - May 10, 2014 at 9:24 AM

    Morse was unusual in that he actually played better in RF then he did in LF.
    Regardless of Morse, Scott Hairston has no redeeming value in the outfield. None. As he has aged he is even worse then he was, which was never very good. The guy might make a good play once in a while, but he will never do it consistently.

  10. Natsfool - May 10, 2014 at 9:28 AM

    I don’t follow the business side but it looks like Desmond didn’t get that extension – good. Is there anything we can do with him, like a deadline trade? We can’t hit soft throwers largely due to his and Espinosa’s inability to shorten their swings and wait on pitches. Anybody waiting on Desmond to get hot is going to wait a long time. We’ve addressed our weakness against lefties with Rendon and Werth’s plate adjustments, who is one of the smartest hitters I’ve seen. If we could trade Desmond for two above-replacement players, we could get some formidable depth.

    • ehay2k - May 10, 2014 at 9:40 AM

      Lol. Trade a silver slugger winner for some prospect depth? Because it’s May and he hasn’t hit to your expectations?

      • Section 222 - May 10, 2014 at 9:55 AM

        And don’t forget the dominos that would fall. Espi is the only other MLB caliber SS in our system at this point. So he plays every day. Walters, who can’t field, and can hardly hit from the left side is our backup IF. You really want that over Desi at SS. Sorry Natsfool but I still think he’ll end up having a better year than Espi. And if a somewhat down year lets us lock him up long term without breaking the bank, that’s a nice side effect.

      • ehay2k - May 10, 2014 at 10:48 AM

        +1

      • npb99 - May 10, 2014 at 10:59 AM

        I like Desi and think he’ll get out his slump before long. But do we really want to sign him to a long term deal (e.g. five or more years)? He’ll be 30 when his current deal expires. Do we want a shortstop in his mid-30s? It’s definitely a risk that declining athleticism will affect performance. We already have a right fielder who’s 35 and will be 38 when his contract expires, and might be a candidate for first base, expect that a third baseman with a bad shoulder also has to be moved to first. We should be careful to not turn into one of those teams that all of a sudden is old.

    • ehay2k - May 10, 2014 at 9:44 AM

      Grr, need edit button on WordPress.

      We had three hits last night. Unless there has been another change in MLB rules (or their interpretation!) Espi and Desi didn’t get to bat extra last night, causing the hitting drought all by themselves.

      It’s baseball.

  11. pchuck69 - May 10, 2014 at 9:51 AM

    Whenever I think they can’t possibly get any worse, they do. I want to think that last night was the nadir of their possible performances but I know it’s not. I know, at some point, they will be worse than they were last night and that’s disturbing. There doesn’t appear to be a level to which they won’t sink below

    • therealjohnc - May 10, 2014 at 11:51 AM

      Quite remarkable that they have a winning record, isn’t it?

    • NatsNut - May 10, 2014 at 12:05 PM

      You must be a new fan.

      • Section 222 - May 10, 2014 at 1:46 PM

        Zing!

  12. NatsLady - May 10, 2014 at 10:09 AM

    Last night, after Kimbrel blew the save, in the 10th, Heyward singled and stole second. The Cubbies manager walked Justin Upton intentionally to get to Freddie Freeman. Even though that made for a lefty-lefty match, I still find it puzzling. I wonder what it would be on Poznanski’s scale.

    Question 1. What inning?

    If it was in the ninth inning or later, it scores one point on the IWRS.
    +1

    Question 2: Did the walk bring up the opposing pitcher or a particularly weak hitter?

    If yes, then it scores zero points. If no, add three points.
    Not. In fact, it brought up a BETTER hitter, three doesn’t seem like enough!
    +3

    Question 3: Did the walk give your team the platoon advantage or force the opposing manager to go to his bench?

    If yes, score it zero points. If no, add three points.
    +0
    (but I question this, as the pitcher didn’t have a better record against lefties).

    Question 4: Does the extra baserunner matter?

    No.
    +0

    Question 5: Are you setting up the double play to get out of an inning?

    If yes, add zero points. If no, add three points.
    (There were none out)
    +3

    Question 6: Are you intentionally walking someone SOLELY to avoid a great hitter?

    If no, add zero points. If yes, add 4 points. There’s little that ticks me off more than a manager ordering an intentional walk just to avoid a good hitter. It’s bad strategy, it’s anti-competitive, it shows no confidence in your own pitcher and it’s cowardly.

    Well, I wouldn’t call Justin Upton a great hitter. 0

    TOTAL: 7

  13. NatsLady - May 10, 2014 at 10:19 AM

    Yesterday, when I posted the list of relievers’ streaks of scoreless appearances, someone asked me if I could do scoreless innings. I was trying to set that up when I realized I don’t understand the question. Maybe the person could clarify? Do you want to know the number of innings in the scoreless streaks? Or number of scoreless innings of relief in a season/career?

  14. Eugene in Oregon - May 10, 2014 at 11:24 AM

    A few thoughts from last night’s game:

    – Tommie Milone was clearly ‘on’; whether he wanted to show Mike Rizzo his worth or was simply due for a good start, I’ll leave to others. Also, a quick glance at Mr. Milone’s game logs over the past two seasons suggests that while he’s had some blow-ups (thus the high ERA), he’s also pitched some good, low-scoring games. I wasn’t expecting a shutout either, but his performance wasn’t out of the realm of reason.

    – Doug Fister never looked to be in complete control of his pitches; one or two seemed to get away from him in each AB (I know that’s impressionistic and can probably be challenged, but so be it). There were times when he and Wilson Ramos didn’t seem to be in sync (perhaps naturally, given that they haven’t been playing together), and I somewhat write-off Mr. Fister’s throwing error to rust.

    – As someone above noted, Scott Hairston simply doesn’t look comfortable in LF (error aside). And Kevin Frandsen didn’t look particularly comfortable at 1B (error aside).

    – A couple of well-hit Nats balls seemed to die in the expanses of O.Co, while similarly well-hit A’s balls seemed to carry; skill and ability or randomness and luck?

    – That was truly a make-shift line-up last night: C playing his third or fourth game of the season, only one IF in the position he was playing on opening day, of the three subs in the line-up, only one of them would be considered the ‘first off the bench’ in his position, and a pitcher who might well have been given another rehab if the Nats had had more options. Not making excuses, just noting the facts.

    • Eugene in Oregon - May 10, 2014 at 11:26 AM

      Should read: …given another rehab start if…

    • Section 222 - May 10, 2014 at 1:47 PM

      Thanks for the first hand report. Hope you’re going today and tomorrow and things turn around.

  15. dcwx61 - May 10, 2014 at 11:39 AM

    How is McLouth….He has less balls dropped per game

  16. dcwx61 - May 10, 2014 at 11:43 AM

    Fernando Abad 1-14 MLB career…wins don’t mean much for a reliever but impressive

  17. NatsNut - May 10, 2014 at 11:58 AM

    Oh, yuck. I didn’t see or hear the game since it started in the middle of the night (for me), but that looks ugly. Oh well. All the others had rough-ish starts too, so it’s out of the way now. Fresh new game today. GYFNG!

  18. Doc - May 10, 2014 at 12:00 PM

    Ty Mo would have looked better in LF or 1B last nigh, than his co-called replacementst!

    I’ll bet Matty runs an old folks’ home in the off season.

  19. rabbit433 - May 10, 2014 at 12:13 PM

    Well, it might have been a disappointing loss, but at least he got it at the right time. Let’s see, what did we score….ZERO runs?? This was a ST start for Fister. Can’t say the same for our sluggers.

  20. Sonny G 10 - May 10, 2014 at 12:16 PM

    The only thing I would worry about with Fister is if last night got into his head. He needs to go out next time and be himself. Don’t try to impress his new teammates. That was part of Haren’s downfall last year. The good news is that Fister got his bad introduction to the rotation out of the way when the offense went south, so it doesn’t matter anyway.

    Scott Hairston is another matter though. As FP said last night there’s no place in MLB for missing “cans of corn” like Scott has. I feel like I can say that because in all my years playing baseball, I only had one error on a “can of corn” fly ball and Hairston has at least two this early season.

    • veejh - May 10, 2014 at 1:29 PM

      Fister will be fine. Dude’s a stud.

      Maybe something to take into account from last night was the fact he was pitching to an AL team where all the guys had seen him before. He’s gonna tear up NL hitters once his stuff is on.

  21. Natsfool - May 10, 2014 at 1:03 PM

    Looked on Baseball Reference and it looks like Desmond is roughly a 2-WAR player. You can be optimistic and assume he improves, but there is simply no indication that he is more than a first-pitch fastball hitter. The hole in our collective WAR is Espinosa, but no one will take him. Trade Desmond for 2 1.5 WAR players and you get roster depth. If you get lucky, one of those guys may turn out to be 2 WAR. And it would be cheaper than paying Desmond a multi-year contract that he is not worth.

    • Hiram Hover - May 10, 2014 at 2:04 PM

      Huh? Each of last 2 seasons, he was worth 3.5 rWAR and 5 fWAR. He doesnt need to improve–just needs to get back to what he was last couple of years.

      • therealjohnc - May 10, 2014 at 2:23 PM

        It’s better if you read his comments imaging him with a jester’s hat with bells on the ends. It helps :-)

      • Hiram Hover - May 10, 2014 at 2:39 PM

        Ha!

      • Sonny G 10 - May 10, 2014 at 3:06 PM

        And with eyes crossed. :)

      • natsjackinfl - May 10, 2014 at 3:07 PM

        They need to drop the “Nats” part of their name.

  22. veejh - May 10, 2014 at 1:49 PM

    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/mlb/news/20140509/sonny-gray-oakland-athletics-background-tennessee/

    Pretty cool story about Sonny Gray, who we’ll be facing tonight.

    • AlexandriaNatFan - May 10, 2014 at 2:37 PM

      Great article. Of course I want the Nats to win, but it sounds like this guy is a class act and fights for the right reasons. These are the kinds of guys I wouldn’t mind losing to – if we do.

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