Jun 22, 2014, 12:10 AM EST
As he walked off the mound and back toward the dugout following his 117th pitch of the night, not a single one of them having led to an Atlanta Brave crossing the plate, Doug Fister finally let himself move out of the moment and consider the bigger picture.
There may be no member of the Washington Nationals pitching staff with the ability to maintain tunnel vision like Fister, a master at focusing only on the inning at hand, the at-bat at hand, the pitch at hand. But once the right-hander knew his evening was done and he saw the sellout crowd of 40,677 standing to applaud his effort, he doffed his cap and shook hands with teammates and coaches.
“I expended everything I had tonight,” he said. “It’s just a token of gratification from me to the fans standing up and giving a standing ovation to the guys. Just saying thank you.”
Everything that Fister had was more than enough to lead the Nationals to an oh-so-needed, 3-0 victory over the Braves, one that moved them back into first place in the NL East after a one-day reprieve. That his lights-out performance — eight scoreless innings — came on the heels of a 13-inning loss that taxed both the Nats’ bullpen and mental fortitude only made the moment sweeter.
“He controlled the strike zone, all of his pitches for strikes, working ahead in the count,” manager Matt Williams said. “All of those things that pitchers do when they go deep into a game, he did that tonight. Really stepped up for the bullpen, too.”
The Nationals are loathe to declare any one member of their star-studded rotation more important than the rest. Every one of them has pitched like an ace at some point.
But Fister probably has pitched more like one than anybody else. In five of his nine starts now, he has allowed two or fewer runs over seven or more innings. Five times he has taken the ball in the wake of a Nationals loss, and four times he has led them to victory.
And on this night, knowing his mates in the bullpen were in dire need of a break, he logged some overtime, going eight full innings while throwing the third-most pitches of his career.
“You know, looking back it was obviously very important,” Fister said. “But during the game, you don’t think about it. You go out there one inning at a time and say you want to get three quick outs. That’s something that doesn’t change.”
Something else that doesn’t change, no matter the situation: Fister’s quick pace on the mound. He throws the ball. He catches the ball. He throws the ball again, never giving opposing batters enough time to think.
“That is the game as a pitcher: You control the game, and they react to you,” he said. “That’s a mentality you go out there with every day. I am going to control what I can control and go to work after that.”
The guys standing in the field behind Fister genuinely appreciate his rhythm.
“We love it,” third baseman Anthony Rendon said. “He gets right back on the mound. In between innings, he is waiting on the umpires to tell him when he can throw that first pitch. It’s pretty fun playing behind him, because you know you are going to get a lot of action.”
And, for good measure, Fister remains an offensive contributor as well. Twice on Saturday he was called upon to bunt, and twice he came through, advancing a runner who ultimately came around to score.
He is truly a complete pitcher. And nine starts into his Nationals career, he’s 6-2 with a 2.65 ERA. More than worthy of a standing ovation Saturday night, and perhaps plenty more before this season is over.
“We talked about it a lot, the fact that he can help himself out a lot, win games, stay in games,” Williams said. “It’s important. He takes pride in it. He’s a good fielder. He can swing the bat a little bit. He’s an effective runner. All of those things contribute to allowing him to go deep in games and trusting the fact that he’ll get it done. And he certainly has.”
COUNTDOWN TO OPENING DAY
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As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2014 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
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SAT: 10:30 a.m.
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