Jul 10, 2014, 10:25 AM EST
BALTIMORE — Early on a humid night at Camden Yards, it looked like Doug Fister might not have his best stuff. Staked to a 2-0 lead by his Nationals teammates, Fister took the mound for the bottom of the first and delivered a bumpy performance. Perhaps squeezed by a tight strike zone, the right-hander walked two of the first four batters he faced. A Chris Davis single brought in a run, but with runners on the corners, Fister induced a fly ball from J.J. Hardy to escape the inning.
From there, he found his slot.
“There were some pitches that were close,” Fister said of the first inning. “After that it was a matter of: ‘I’m going to attack the zone and just make them hit it. They might put the ball in play, put it in play hard, but that’s why I’ve got a defense.'”
Besides serving up a solo home run to a sizzling-hot Manny Machado in the fourth inning, Fister did exactly as he predicted. Keeping the ball down with his usual sink, the Nats starter induced a series of ground balls to a stout Washington defense that had the added advantage of Anthony Rendon at third base and Danny Espinosa at second. Playing in an American League ballpark, manager Matt Williams could keep Ryan Zimmerman’s bat in the lineup in the DH spot, and beef up his defense behind the groundball-heavy Fister.
“He had some pitches early that were really close,” Williams said after the win. “It’s a question of adjusting to the strike zone, too. But I thought he pitched really well.”
Fister’s final line — seven innings, two runs — looked solid, but he owed plenty of thanks to the defense behind him, especially Rendon at third. Multiple times Rendon made diving stabs down the line, sacrificing his body for outs.
“He’s going to sell out for you, that says a lot about him,” Fister said. “But it also says a lot about the team.”
In the bottom of the sixth, with the Nationals leading 5-2, Fister found himself in a bit of a jam. After he gave up a single to Davis, and a wild pitch let Davis advance to second base, another Machado hit gave the Orioles the chance to tie the game. With runners on first and second, Caleb Joseph hit a sharp grounder to Rendon, who was able to stop the ball, fire to second, and start an inning-ending double play.
Groundball outs, and the double plays that come with them, are part of the fun of having Fister on the mound.
“You don’t ever feel like you’re out of the game when he’s out there,” teammate Jayson Werth said. “I think there’s something about how he works. He works quick. He throws strikes. He keeps you on your toes.”
Unlike some pitchers, Fister seems content to count on his defense. Werth appreciates it.
“It’s a pleasure to play D behind him and watch him work,” the right fielder said.
COUNTDOWN TO OPENING DAY
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