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Fister’s surprisingly ineffective week

Aug 28, 2014, 12:43 AM EST

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PHILADELPHIA — When it happened over the weekend against the Giants, it felt like one blip on an otherwise stellar summer of pitching dominance. When it happened again Wednesday night against the Phillies, you started to wonder whether this has quickly become more than a mere blip.

Doug Fister has been the Nationals’ workhorse this season, their stopper, the guy they want to take the ball when they have to win a game. How surprising, then, have his back-to-back losses — including Wednesday’s 8-4 defeat at Citizens Bank Park — been within the context of his entire year?

“You really can’t say too much,” center fielder Denard Span said. “He’s been unbelievable. Even tonight, he still went six innings and gave us an opportunity to win. That’s all you can ask for. He’s been stellar all season. … When he has a game like this, it almost seems like he didn’t pitch good. But he still pitched great tonight.”

Fister, who allowed five runs (four earned) on a season-high 10 hits in only 5 2/3 innings, and twice gave up 2-run leads, wasn’t quite as forgiving of himself.

“I let the guys down tonight with some bad pitches,” the right-hander said. “That’s what it comes down to. I didn’t do my job. A starting pitcher is supposed to set the tone and be the example. From first pitch, I didn’t do that. I’ve got to be better from the start.”

Fister has excelled at his job the majority of the season, thrusting himself into the conversation for Cy Young Award also-ran votes behind presumptive winner Clayton Kershaw and establishing himself as the No. 1 arm in the Nationals’ star-studded rotation. But something has been different his last two times out. Specifically, he has been giving up home runs.

After a 10-start span in which he served up a total of only three homers, Fister has now been taken deep four times in two games. Handed a 2-0 lead before he ever took the mound Wednesday night, he quickly left a 1-0 sinker up in the zone to Jimmy Rollins and watched the Phillies shortstop send a rainbow just over the right-field fence.

Fister’s bigger mistake came in the bottom of the sixth, after the Nationals had once again opened up a 2-run lead. Already showing some signs of fading, with Domonic Brown’s RBI double bringing the Phillies to within a run, Fister got ahead of pinch-hitter Grady Sizemore 0-2 and then decided to try something he doesn’t normally do.

“I got away from my plan,” he said. “I tried to get a little tricky with a couple curveballs, and I hung the second one. He’s a great hitter, and he’s done it for a while and you pay for it.”

Indeed, Sizemore tagged Fister’s hanging breaking ball to deep right field, giving the Phillies a 5-4 lead and leaving the Nationals shell-shocked.

Considering how out of the ordinary these last two starts have been, it’s human nature to wonder what, if anything, has changed. It’s also human nature to consider the minor procedure Fister had done last week to remove skin cancer that had developed on the left side of his neck, and wonder whether it has had any effect on his pitching performance.

Fister insisted after his last start it did not, and manager Matt Williams echoed that sentiment Wednesday night.

“I wouldn’t think so, no,” Williams said. “It was an outpatient type of thing. I don’t think there’s any effect there at all. He missed no time, didn’t miss any work. In fact, he worked out that day before he went and had the procedure. I don’t think there’s anything to it.”

If anything, Fister understands the key to overcoming this blip is to get back to what he has done so well most of the season: Keep his pitches down in the strike zone.

“It’s just a matter of – I’m redundant in saying it – getting the ball down,” he said. “That’s the key to any sort of success. It’s going to be something I’m going to have to really bear down on and get some work in.”

  1. scmargenau - Aug 28, 2014 at 7:46 AM

    Has there been any history with Doug of a decline towards the end of a season?

    • Steady Eddie - Aug 28, 2014 at 8:05 AM

      Remember, he missed the first seven or so starts of the season. So this isn’t late in Fister’s season in terms of the number of starts, it’s more towards the middle. Even in a dominant season, I can’t imagine that virtually any pitcher doesn’t have at least a brief slump. Let’s hope that’s all that this is.

    • NatsLady - Aug 28, 2014 at 8:10 AM

      Nope.
      Career ERA first half: 3.51
      Career ERA seond half 3.58.

      Career line against, first half .258/.304/.382
      Career line against, second half .258/.301/.376

  2. Hiram Hover - Aug 28, 2014 at 8:40 AM

    I’m hoping Fister gets it back together too, obviously, but I can’t say I am too worried at this point.

    As to the HRs–the one to Sizemore was a clear mistake. The one to Rollins was a CBP special–espn’s home run tracker classed it as a “lucky” homer that would have left no other MLB park.

    • nats128 - Aug 28, 2014 at 9:18 AM

      Fister even said he tried to get to cute with the pitch to Sizemore which was a lousy curveball. Like you said the Rollins was a popup caught on the warning track of most parks.

      With all that said Fister still wasnt throwing well. Good pitchers can sometimes get away with it and he did not.

  3. ehay2k - Aug 28, 2014 at 9:27 AM

    Guy has ONE cancer surgery and all of a sudden he starts overthinking things. Sheesh! What a baby!
    /sarcasm

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 28, 2014 at 10:02 AM

      Fister was in control until he gave up that double to Brown and then hung the curveball to Sizemore for 3 earned in the 6th. He had only 1 earned run prior to that inning.

      It came down to 2 bad pitches. Now with all that said, Fister was up in the zone and just not in control like we saw him when he’s spot on, but good pitchers can get away with not having their best stuff and Fister almost did.

      I just wonder if this was a playoff game if MW goes to the pen to start the 6th. This is the conundrum with a low pitch count and an Ace pitcher. The Dodgers had the same decision with Kershaw last night and it worked out. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.

  4. Section 222 - Aug 28, 2014 at 10:11 AM

    I’m not worried. But I’m also not ready to annoint him our “ace” or assume that every improvement shown by any other pitcher is a result of talking to or watching Fister.

    I know it will drive people crazy, but my prediction is that Stras will be our Game 1 starter if the rotation can be lined up. JZnn should probably get the nod, but MW believes “Stras is our horse.”

    And while I’m tempting fate, the break even clinch date (BECD) has now moved to Sept. 23 at home against the Mets. In other words, for those who missed my tome yesterday, if the Braves and Nats match each other win for win and loss for loss, the Nats would clinch on that date. Any day that the Braves win and the Nats lose, like last night, moves the date back, and any day that the Nats win and the Braves lose moves it forward.

  5. thomaswell - Aug 28, 2014 at 11:42 AM

    i agree that Fister is not necessarily our game 1 starter in place of Stras. depending on how things pan out in Sept & who we play, the only question right now is who are the 4 man starting rotation (obvious are Stras, JZim & Fister) but has Roark done enough to replace Gio for that first series and situation. i dont think so but that’s MW decision.

    • Section 222 - Aug 28, 2014 at 12:34 PM

      I agree with your analysis. And remember, in the NLDS you can get away with 3 pitchers if you want because of off days. The only reason that Det had to start in 2012 was that there wasn’t a second off day before Game 5. Thank goodness he did.

      So in theory, MW wouldn’t have to make a decision between Roark and Gio (if Stras, JZnn, and Fister are the top 3) until the NLCS. He can have them both available as long guys for the NLDS (and even the first two games of the NLCS) if necessary, and start the other in Game 4 of the NLCS.

      Lots of options, and it will be fascinating to see how it plays out.

      • thomaswell - Aug 28, 2014 at 1:59 PM

        yes, depending on delays and such, it is possible to juggle in a 3 man rotation for DS if there was a “weather” issue. the rule of thumb is 5 days of rest for a SP and cancelled games have pushed a “better” into starting rotation. of course in playoffs, i think the 4 days is enough.

  6. Pete "Hit 'n Run" Wood - Aug 29, 2014 at 3:52 PM

    OK, this much is clear: The 3-man rotation is Fister, Roark and JZimm. Strass and Gio are in the BP.

    the real question is: when is Aaron Barrett returning? I heard he had a minor injury, but I have no details.
    He is sorely needed in the BP.

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