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A stopper in mindset, if not words

May 25, 2014, 6:38 PM EST

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PITTSBURGH — There are pitchers who will openly say they take the mound with a little extra emotion and motivation when their club is in the midst of a losing streak and desperately needs to put an end to it. Some guys relish the idea of being their team’s stopper.

Doug Fister, though, doesn’t buy into that idea. Not because he doesn’t want to be the guy with the ball ending a losing streak. Because he wants to be the guy with the ball no matter the overall state of his team.

“Same thing as slumping,” the right-hander said. “A slump’s only as much as you think it is. That’s something that mentally you have to beat. Today is a new day. You’ve got to have a short-term memory in this game. And today was a new day.”

If he didn’t convey the stopper mentality via his words on Sunday, Fister did with his performance. Knowing the Nationals were desperate after a four-game losing streak that left them under .500, the veteran hurler went right after the Pirates lineup and wound up authoring his third consecutive strong start in the Nats’ 5-2 victory at PNC Park.

In short, Fister was exactly the guy the Nationals needed — and wanted — on the mound on this afternoon.

“He’s great,” said Adam LaRoche, who went 1-for-4 in his return from the disabled list. “We’ve got a few guys you want to have the ball in a must-win game. But he was phenomenal.”

Fister appears well-suited for this role. He may not blow away opposing hitters, but he attacks the strike zone, gets quick outs, keeps his teammates on their feet and doesn’t get rattled by anything.

To wit: After Ian Desmond misplayed a hard grounder in the fifth for his 13th error of the season, Fister didn’t wilt. He immediately got pinch-hitter Jose Tabata to hit another grounder right at Desmond, who started an inning-ending, 6-4-3 double play.

It’s a mindset Fister first learned in college from Fresno State coach Mike Batesole: Treat every pitch with the same amount of importance. Don’t worry about the last one. Don’t look ahead to the next one.

“That was one of our biggest keys I had in college with Coach Bates,” he said. “Make a one-pitch adjustment. Don’t let it carry over to the second or third pitch. Make sure you take care of it right away.”

Fister was humming along through five innings Sunday, buoyed by a 4-0 lead supplied by his Nationals teammates, and looking like he could pitch deep into the afternoon. Things quickly began to deteriorate in the bottom of the sixth, though. Josh Harrison homered. Neil Walker singled. Andrew McCutchen grounded to third, but then Ike Davis singled to left, prompting manager Matt Williams to make a surprisingly quick visit to the mound to take the ball from his starter and hand it to Craig Stammen.

“The ball just started to get up [in the zone] a little bit,” Williams said. “Could he have gone longer? Yeah, but we decided to get him out of there. And Stammen came in and made a really nice pitch.”

Indeed he did. Stammen threw the customary eight warm-up tosses from the mound, then recorded two outs with only one pitch: A sinker to Starling Marte that turned into a 5-4-3, inning-ending double play.

“I’ve never done that,” Stammen said. “But it was fun. I enjoyed it. One pitch, it’s less stressful that way.”

The rest of the afternoon was fairly routine, with the Pirates never drawing closer than three runs and closer Rafael Soriano cruising through a 1-2-3 ninth inning to prevent them from even sniffing the possibility of a comeback.

So the Nationals left town in a good mood at the end of an otherwise miserable weekend. They’ve still got an uphill battle, sitting at .500 with Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper and Gio Gonzalez all on the DL.

But they’ve got LaRoche back. They’ve gotten good pitching performances across the board, with Fister now establishing himself as a trusted member of the rotation. They’ve managed to remain positive despite plenty of reason for negativity.

For the first time in five days, smiles abounded and music blared in the Nationals’ clubhouse after what certainly felt like a more-significant victory than most.

“Today was an important win,” Stammen said. “We needed to break that losing streak, get a good vibe as we go home and not go with our tail between our legs.”

  1. NatsLady - May 25, 2014 at 6:49 PM

    The Tigers, who were declared the best team in baseball a week ago, have lost six of seven.

    “After 5 1/3 innings [Verlander’s] day was done having allowed a career high of nine runs on 11 hits, six of which were earned. Verlander also gave up a home run in the second to Michael Choice on the first pitch, and his only 1-2-3 inning of the day occurred during the fourth inning.” Miguel Cabrera and Joba Chamberlain left with “minor” injuries.

    Oakland, also declared the best team in baseball with the best run differential, has lost four straight, and only lead their division by 2 games (pending today’s result from the Angels/KC game).

    Boston, which won the 2013 World Series, has lost ten straight and is in last place in the NL East.

    Milwaukee, who had April’s hottest start, now only leads its division by 2 games (pending tonight’s result of Cards/Reds.)

    It’s a long season.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - May 25, 2014 at 6:52 PM

      It’s a long season and the Nats are a 7 game win streak away from looking dominant.

      Just having LaRoche back made the Nats feel stronger.

      Nice job by Fister. I thought he made some huge pitches when he needed to.

      Bullpen was great once again. That doubleplay ball by Stammen was huge.

    • ehay2k - May 26, 2014 at 11:21 AM

      Edit feature please, cuz we all know NatsLady knows that the BoSox are in the AL, but now, for posterity….

  2. Eugene in Oregon - May 25, 2014 at 6:53 PM

    Having been at Doug Fister’s disastrous first game of the season in Oakland, I’m delighted to see that that start seems to have been an aberration. He deserves a lot of credit for the way he’s been pitching since then. Keep it up, please.

    • adcwonk - May 25, 2014 at 9:26 PM

      You mean “keep it down” ! ;-)

      • ehay2k - May 26, 2014 at 11:21 AM

        +1

  3. NatsLady - May 25, 2014 at 7:04 PM

    Padres’ bullpen has pitched two scoreless and crept ahead of us in ERA. But they have two innings to go in their game 8th & 9th. But it’s against the Cubs…

  4. David Proctor - May 25, 2014 at 7:10 PM

    Posted it in the game thread, but that got jumbled up.

    Our team leader in ERA is: Strasburg, Roark and Fister all tied at exactly 3.42. Sort of odd.

    • David Proctor - May 25, 2014 at 7:11 PM

      Starters of course. Our bullpen has much better.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - May 25, 2014 at 7:23 PM

      Not a good ERA for a top of rotation pitcher. Good for Fister given that 1st start.

      • David Proctor - May 25, 2014 at 7:25 PM

        Indeed. Good news is all three have been trending down. JZimm’s is way too high (3.95). Gio’s is 4+, though his ERA went from 2.95 to over 4 in just his last two starts, they were so bad.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 25, 2014 at 7:38 PM

        Never ever expected this from Stras and JZim. Very happy with this start from Fister.

        Roark is a pleasant surprise. Very concerned about Gio. Came into Spring Training physically strong but has looked mentally weak.

  5. Ghost of Steve M. - May 25, 2014 at 7:59 PM

    Charlie Sheen in a suit on the set of Baseball Tonight.

    • Eugene in Oregon - May 25, 2014 at 10:51 PM

      Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 25, 2014 at 11:08 PM

        I think it’s good. He looked good and knows baseball.

    • Eugene in Oregon - May 25, 2014 at 11:35 PM

      Ghost, Ghost, Ghost — I set you up and you whiffed — the correct answer was ‘It’s a wild thing.’

      • Eugene in Oregon - May 25, 2014 at 11:38 PM

        Sorry, I whiffed too — meant to embed this:

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 25, 2014 at 11:42 PM

        Good one! He ended the broadcast by autographing a Wild Thing card by Topps.

  6. scnatsfan - May 25, 2014 at 8:00 PM

    A ten game winning streak has to start with the first win, let’s hope this is one of those wins

    • Ghost of Steve M. - May 25, 2014 at 8:02 PM

      10 games? I’m looking for 4 or 5 in a row for now then one of those 7 game win streaks.

      A 3 run win today felt like a blowout.

  7. Ghost of Steve M. - May 25, 2014 at 8:00 PM

    Verlander loses again. What has happened to the Tigers.

  8. 3on2out - May 25, 2014 at 8:47 PM

    And the best thing? No posts from from the Legions of Doom. How utterly refreshing.

    • Hiram Hover - May 25, 2014 at 9:51 PM

      The Nats scoring 2 runs in the first will do that.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 25, 2014 at 10:00 PM

        +1 It was almost unreadable on Friday and Saturday. Those that traveled without internet this weekend were probably lucky.

  9. richardp6 - May 25, 2014 at 9:55 PM

    The Nats have the capacity to win. their recent 1 run losses have a way of evening out over the season, which with Harper and Zimmerman coming back bodes will for a post all-star break run. The division is weak as well so they could probably squeak into the playoffs with 90 wins. I do think if they would play a little more small ball, it would suit this team as they are prone to low scoring games. I don’t know why the don’t steal and bunt more, especially steal. They need as many RISP as possible as they seem to be underachieving in that area in particular. Of all things, I am most surprised at JZimmerman’s mediocre starts. He needs to turn it around for this team to take it to the division title.

    • Section 222 - May 25, 2014 at 11:13 PM

      I’m not a fan of bunts (except with none out and a guy on second when all you need is one run to win the game :-)), but it was a good sign that Span, Rendon, and Desi all stole bags in this series. Good aggressiveness from third on WPs too.

      Very important to stop the slide today. Great job by Fister. Look forward to hearing from Gonats whether he’s a believer yet. And good call by MW to hook him when things started to go south. Doesn’t make up for last night’s bungle, but at least he let the pen work its magic and avoid the sweep.

    • Eugene in Oregon - May 25, 2014 at 11:15 PM

      Mostly agree. Regarding Jordan Zimmermann, for what it’s worth:

      2011: ERA: 3.18, FIP: 3.16, WHIP: 1.15, BABIP: .296
      2012: ERA: 2.94, FIP: 3.51, WHIP: 1.17, BABIP: .292
      2013: ERA: 3.25, FIP: 3.36, WHIP: 1.09, BABIP: .275
      2014: ERA: 3.95, FIP: 3.34, WHIP: 1.43, BABIP: .359
      Career: ERA: 3.44, FIP: 3.49, WHIP: 1.19, BABIP: .298 (includes 23 starts in 2009 and 2010).

      I know there are others who can interpret these numbers a lot better and more precisely than I, but I read them as suggesting he was a little bit ‘lucky’ last year and about a twice as ‘unlucky’ this season (so far). One can only hope that this year’s numbers — BABIP and WHIP — return to something closer to his career norm over the course the season.

      • chazzmichaelmichaelzz - May 26, 2014 at 1:30 AM

        It also seems Zimmerman is not hitting the edges of the zone, and pretty much living in the heart of the plate. Looking at Pitch f/x Zimmerman has been missing in the zone, especially on his slider. That may be part of the reason for his BABIP increase.

      • veejh - May 26, 2014 at 1:38 AM

        In general, I see all the Nats pitchers only improving. Get worse, unlikely. 15-1 when we score 4 runs or more, I believe. Once the hitting comes around, and the pitching mildly improves, we’ll be fine.

  10. veejh - May 26, 2014 at 1:59 AM

    Tigers have shown interest for Tyler Moore since Fielder out for the year per mlbtraderumors. They’re interested in many 1st basemen. Interesting.

    • natsjackinfl - May 26, 2014 at 6:29 AM

      You meant the Rangers, right? Doubt the Tigers are looking to replace Miggy.

      • Joe Seamhead - May 26, 2014 at 9:23 AM

        Remember when many on this board roasted the Rizzo and the Nats for not landing Prince?

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 26, 2014 at 9:30 AM

        Joe, Rizzo was wise in only looking at a short term deal and Prince was smart to take the long term deal.

        Anyone who roasted Rizzo are the type that don’t understand the game or this team.

      • Joe Seamhead - May 26, 2014 at 9:44 AM

        I was never big on that whole idea. I wouldn’t be surprised if Prince’s productive days aren’t totally behind him.

        BTW, Jack, you mentioned Steven Perez as being a shortstop to watch. Perez is having a pretty good year in Potomac. He is hitting .313, .410 OBP, .835 OPS.
        He only has 26 K’s in 160 AB’s along with 25BB’s.
        13 for 16 in stolen bases
        !4 errors in 46 games

  11. natsjackinfl - May 26, 2014 at 8:17 AM

    While I accept the notion that Fister’s performance yesterday served the purpose of being “stopper like”, one has to acknowledge that having the benefit of 2 runs in the first, followed by 2 more in the 5th allowed him a luxury fellow Nat starters have seldom enjoyed.

    I’m not taking away anything because I think he may represent more of the ace-like qualities than some other members of the staff like keeping the ball down early in the game and just generally throwing strikes and keeping his pitch count low.

    He definitely has to be a terrific influence on the rest of the staff, especially Treinen and Roark.

  12. Joe Seamhead - May 26, 2014 at 8:57 AM

    He is what we always referred to as, “He’s a player.” He has a great attitude, which can’t be taught.

    • Joe Seamhead - May 26, 2014 at 9:19 AM

      Though I was surprised by Matt Williams pulling Fister in the 6th, I had no problem with it. I didn’t see it as the same situation as the night before with Strasburg, but regardless, use the tools you have. I wonder if Rizzo and Williams have a meeting after almost every game like Rizzo and Johnson did? If so, I can just hear Mike telling Matt after Saturday’s game that he [Rizzo] has worked hard to assemble the best overall bullpen in the league and thinks that it should be used.

      It’s great to get Adam and Wilson back. They will get their timing back and the hits will start falling. I’m not sure that teams will continue to do the extreme shift on Adam, as he is capable of making his own adjustments to it. Also nice to see Anthony and Ian’s bats waking up. And Denard Span’s getting on base and his base-running has been a big improvement over the past couple of weeks. When he performs well offensively the whole batting order seems to perform better.

      Let’s get a winning streak going!

      GYFNG!!!

      • 6ID20 - May 26, 2014 at 9:38 AM

        I can hear Rizzo telling Williams that Boras will want a Verlander/Kershaw contract for Strasburg in a couple years, so keep riding him hard now so we can find out if he’s worth it.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 26, 2014 at 10:09 AM

        “use the tools you have” is a great phrase. Like good tools you have to keep them sharp and use the right tool for the right situation.

        When you are mired in a losing streak, you are dealing with a situation that possibly calls for being a little more conservative. Strasburg had little margin for error and whether he should’ve been pulled at 1st sign of trouble or when Snyder was inserted as a pinch-hitter I think MW screwed up certainly when the weak lefty PH was brought in and he walked him to pitched to their leadoff man Harrison who then quickly burned him.

        On Sunday, MW pulled Fister at 1st sign of trouble. Was it the right move? Sure seems that way from the results. Stammen gets a slick GIDP turned and Nats win.

        The results almost always dictate how a Manager is judged. How many times does a Manager screw up only to be bailed out by a player and look like a genius. It happens all the time. If Strasburg gets Harrison out on Saturday and the game goes forward at 2-2 and Nats win there probably are less people chirping and MW then changes his strategy on Sunday.

  13. ehay2k - May 26, 2014 at 11:40 AM

    I for one think too much has been made of MW not pulling Stras, who still hates to get pulled. Maybe MW wants to make him earn it now. Make him a bit tougher. Make him understand that he will get the hook if and when MW wants to, and respect that. Stras is still so young, in terms of professional experience, that we all forget that sometimes. He is still learning some (many?) things that most pitchers, those that aren’t drafted first overall, those with killer stuff, and those given pro contracts and a spot on the 40 man right out of college, have time to learn in the minors. And remember he hasn’t even had the benefit of just two consecutive full professional seasons yet.

    To wit: Holding men on base? No need to learn that at the college level when no one can hit you, and most base runners weren’t at the pro level. Getting used to getting the hook? Just didn’t happen in college because he could always finish an inning with his stuff, and no one in the pen could do any better. He is also still learning about tempo, pitch counts, etc.

    The good news is that he will just continue to improve. But every game provides the opportunity for a lesson to be given, and something learned. So just because for one game MW leaves him in long doesn’t mean the skipper doesn’t want to win the game. He may have other motives.

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