May 10, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT
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.
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