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Fister and Roark struggle; Desmond keeps heating up

Jul 24, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT

USA Today

The Nationals’ starting rotation hasn’t been nearly as good collectively as many predicted it would be this year, and part of the reason has been the disappointing season of Doug Fister.

The Nats’ starting staff was one of the best in baseball in 2014 and Fister was their most consistent guy. He went 16-6 with a 2.41 ERA in what was the best year of his career. He finished eighth in NL Cy Young voting and beat now-playoff legend Madison Bumgarner in Game 3 of the NLDS.

Whether it be injuries or something else, 2015 just hasn’t been the same for the 6-foot-8 right-hander. Fister got rocked again on Thursday night in the Nationals’ 7-3 loss the Pirates, allowing four earned runs on nine hits and a walk in just five innings of work. It was the eighth time in his 13 starts this season that Fister has allowed seven hits or more.

Fister has now surrendered four earned runs or more in seven of his last 11 outings. For a comparison, he did that just four times in 25 starts in 2014. His ERA after Thursday is 4.50, nearly double his mark from last year. He hasn’t finished a season with an ERA above 4.00 since 2010.

Fister missed a month of this season with forearm tightness and returned from the DL on June 18 against the Tampa Bay Rays. In his five starts since coming back, he has allowed 18 earned runs in 29 1/3 innings (4.72 ERA).

Fister’s fastball velocity has in some outings been down from what it was last year, but his problems seem to run much deeper. Whatever is holding him back is a mystery the Nats would like to solve and soon.

Roark struggles again

Tanner Roark relieved Fister in the sixth inning on Thursday and had yet another poor outing in a long string of them. Roark allowed two runs through two innings – including a two-run homer to Andrew McCutchen – to put the game out of reach.

Roark has now allowed earned runs in five straight relief appearances. He has a 5.10 ERA on the season and has surrendered homers in three of his last four outings.

Up until about two months ago, nothing seemed to faze Roark. He was brought to the majors in 2013 to pitch out of the bullpen and he was excellent. He was converted to a starter and was brilliant for all of 2014. Then he returned to the bullpen for the 2015 season and, at first, thrived.

Whatever the reason, Roark is finally starting to show cracks for the first time in his career, and it certainly isn’t helping a Nats bullpen that has already been through its fair share of issues this season.

Desmond continues to heat up

Ian Desmond went 2-for-4 and hit is 100th career home run in a losing effort on Thursday night, a small positive in an otherwise ugly series opener for the Nationals. Desmond is now 7-for-13 with two home runs, 4 RBI and two walks in his last four games. He now has more hits in his last four games than he did in his previous 16.

At several points during this season Desmond has appeared to break out of his months-long slump, so whether he is finally in the clear or not is hard to tell. However, the fact it coincides with a pep talk from Cal Ripken, Jr. has made for a pretty good story.

  1. mauimo22 - Jul 24, 2015 at 6:34 AM

    Why do we keep letting McCutcheon beat us? There seems to be one guy on each team that’s a Nats-killer and he is P’burgh’s. I wish they’d pitch to him like other teams are pitching to Bryce.

    • bowdenball - Jul 24, 2015 at 8:36 AM

      The two guys who hit behind McCutchen both went 2 for 4 and are now hitting .291/.338/.465 and .285/.363/.418. That’s like having 2014 Anthony Rendon and 2014 Denard Span hitting behind you. I assure you teams would be pitching to Harper differently if he had 2014 Anthony Rendon and 2014 Denard Span hitting behind him.

  2. Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 24, 2015 at 7:35 AM

    Real simple solutions here. Fister needs to go back on the DL as something isn’t right with him. Roark has to join Treinen in Syracuse.

    • virginiascopist - Jul 24, 2015 at 7:41 AM

      I don’t disagree about Roark, but who can replace him as a long man? And if Fister is put on the DL before Stras comes back, then who can he be replaced with? AJ Cole? Taylor Hill? Taylor Jordan? Maybe the solutions are not so simple.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 24, 2015 at 7:46 AM

        The bullpen has 8 and Sammy Solis is still in the bullpen and no changes needs to be made. Taylor Jordan replaces Fister. When Stras comes back, TJord goes back to Syracuse.

      • masterfishkeeper - Jul 24, 2015 at 9:40 AM

        Makes sense to me, Ghost. Taylor Jordan has looked pretty good lately.

    • rayvil01 - Jul 24, 2015 at 7:44 AM

      Definitely agree about Roark.

      Fister claims he’s healthy. Something is clearly amiss, though. Is his velo down? I didn’t get to see the game until Roark pitched.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 24, 2015 at 7:55 AM

        Fister’s 2 seamer is not sinking, it’s acting more like a 4 seamer and when he’s throwing it over the plate it’s getting squared up. Is there something wrong with his arm, his delivery, is he over-throwing his pitches? Only he knows and the results are poor overall.

    • Doc - Jul 24, 2015 at 8:21 AM

      I woke up thinking the same thing, at least about Roark. His FB was up in relief situations, earlier in the season. Now it sits about 4 mph less. Sad because I like Tanner’s story.

      Fister, whatever they do with him, probably needs to be replaced by Joe Cool–soon!

      • Doc - Jul 24, 2015 at 8:24 AM

        I always felt that Robbie Ray would start showing up at some point. Now he’s having a good season with the D-Backs ERA about 2.49. He reversed his season in Detroit.last year.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 24, 2015 at 8:27 AM

        Except Joe Cool has replaced Strasburg. Who gives you a better chance to win out of Taylor Jordan and Doug Fister?

      • Doc - Jul 24, 2015 at 8:42 AM

        SS back soon, I’m sure. Then the discussion about Fister and Joe Cool can heat up.

  3. Soul Possession, My Sofa - Jul 24, 2015 at 7:35 AM

    Didn’t half the posters here say Fister’s 2014 was probably unsustainable?

    • Hiram Hover - Jul 24, 2015 at 8:11 AM

      Why, yes, now that you mention it – some of us did say that.

      But I think what’s going on now is more than just regression.

      He’s not pitching the same way and getting worse results. He’s pitching worse–velo down and poorer command.

    • nattyboh1 - Jul 24, 2015 at 8:13 AM

      I think a lot of people said that, but mainly because 2014 was a career year for him – his ERA that year was a full run below his career average.

      What most people didn’t expect or predict was a drop-off this drastic, now his ERA is a full run above his career average.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 24, 2015 at 8:32 AM

      I was in the 1/2 saying Fister was going to have a great 2015 because he wanted to shine for his big payday as he becomes a Free Agent. He reminds me of Dan Haren and not in a good way.

      Fister didn’t forget how to throw his sinker and that’s almost reminiscent of Wang when he was coming back from his injury. It’s still a feel pitch and he has no feel for it.

    • natsnatsnatswoo - Jul 24, 2015 at 9:34 AM

      Ultimately, everything is unsustainable, is it not?

      “In the long run, we are all dead.” – Keynes.

      “Andre Dawson has a bruised knee and is listed as day-to-day (pause). Aren’t we all?” – Scully.

  4. sec112 - Jul 24, 2015 at 7:57 AM

    While Desmond has warmed up, Harper has gone into what can legitimately be considered a slump. 5-21 since the All-Star break with 1 HR and 3, mostly weak, singles. Looks to me like he’s hurting and playing through it because of the team’s situation. Would be good to give him some rest – but with the lineup they have now, it’s hard to see how they can without conceding a game. Though maybe if Desmond gets hot enough and Rendon can come back, they can give him a day before or after next week’s day off.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 24, 2015 at 8:34 AM

      Monday is an off day. Liriano is a nasty lefty and that’s what he does to good lefty batters. What I’ve seen is that Bryce has expanded his zone. In one of his K’s yesterday he didn’t swing at 1 pitch in the zone and 2 weren’t even close. I’m glad he finished with a single.

      • Guapo - Jul 24, 2015 at 9:27 AM

        I saw the same thing in that AB. Could be that he’s gotten frustrated over the season with all the walks. Could be that he’s putting extra pressure to make something happen with the bat when the second best hitter in the lineup is (gulp) Espinosa. Both are understandable. He’s smart, he’ll fix it. Team just needs to get healthy soon and get the kid some help.

    • bowdenball - Jul 24, 2015 at 8:41 AM

      Harper has seven walks since the all-star break and has a .448 OBP over those seven games. That’s not a slump for anyone, not even Babe Ruth or Ted Williams. If he’s hurting and playing through it so he can help the team, it’s working.

      • bowdenball - Jul 24, 2015 at 9:42 AM

        By the way here are the seven pitchers the Nats have faced since the ASB:

        Bolsinger
        Kershaw
        Greinke
        Harvey
        DeGrom
        Syndergaard
        Liriano

        Everyone struggles against those guys. Harper’s .829 OPS against that murderer’s row + the mostly lefty relievers brought in specifically to get him out is actually a somewhat impressive accomplishment.

      • chaz11963 - Jul 24, 2015 at 10:00 AM

        Good point bowdenball

      • coop202 - Jul 24, 2015 at 10:12 AM

        +1. He is getting taken at the moment by the lefty slider going out of the zone though. He wasn’t quite biting as much earlier in the season on that.

        That is straight nitpicking on a giant though

      • sec112 - Jul 24, 2015 at 10:37 AM

        The walks will come if he’s selective and pitchers are worried about throwing him anything in the strike zone (3 of them came in the first game back and might as well have been intentional – as were the two against Harvey ). I’m more focused on what happens when he swings, and it hasn’t looked right. I still think he’s banged up and needs a rest for more than a day. Not picking on him here – just saying he won’t ask out, but probably should be given a break before it gets worse. Hope I’m wrong – but check out his at bats and see if you think he’s the same guy as a couple weeks ago.

  5. rlndtln - Jul 24, 2015 at 8:32 AM

    Why send Fisterto Syracuse.Trade him for BP help

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 24, 2015 at 8:38 AM

      The time to do that would have been 2 weeks ago. Now he wouldn’t get you a batboy in trade as bad as he looks. I don’t think you sell low on him.

      The Nats are now 4-9 in games Fister starts.

      • virginiascopist - Jul 24, 2015 at 8:42 AM

        Even if it was two weeks (or more) ago, a contending team is probably not going to trade out of their bullpen to get him. That’s what prospects are for.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 24, 2015 at 8:45 AM

        Right, he’s a short-term rental and only a potential playoff team would want him in a trade.

      • jd - Jul 24, 2015 at 9:05 AM

        Ghost,

        I still think you can get something along the lines of what Oakland got for Kazmir. I am fairly certain that the Yankees are looking for someone just like Fister. I am not advocating trading Fister though because I don’t think we have enough depth to sustain it.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 24, 2015 at 9:24 AM

        I would jump at that. I wrote here a few weeks ago that Rizzo needs to trade Fister. Did they wait too long?

      • therealjohnc - Jul 24, 2015 at 11:17 AM

        No, you couldn’t/can’t get something along the lines of what Oakland got for Kazmir in exchange for Doug Fister. Kazmir is left handed and has been consistently excellent since 2013. His ERA is 2.38, his FIP is 3.09, and his WHIP is 1.085. Oh, and he’s been healthy this season. OTOH Fister is right handed, hasn’t been healthy, and his ERA is 4.50, his FIP is 4.43, and his WHIP is 1.473. And he gets to pitch to other pitchers.

        No, for Fister the Nats would not get anything anywhere near the lines of what Oakland got for Kazmir.

    • jd - Jul 24, 2015 at 9:02 AM

      There’s a lot of issues here.

      1) Joe Ross never pitched more than 120 innings and at the age off 22 they are very unlikely to go over 160 innings which means he has about 8 – 10 starts left.

      2) If Fister is hurt he should go on the DL. Otherwise he needs to work through it. If the Nats didn’t have team MASH and was able to produce more runs Fister would still be ok as a bottom of the rotation starter.

      3) I am not opposed to replacing Roark with TJordan for a while but let’s remember that Jordan himself has been crushed a time or 2.

      4) If Stras returns soon and at the level he was pitching before he got hurt will be fine.

      • virginiascopist - Jul 24, 2015 at 9:32 AM

        I agree with all of these points. As noted by someone else here, Ross is in danger of becoming overexposed the more he pitches, so when Stras comes back, Fister should stay in the rotation (as long as he’s not physically hurt). I wonder if any thought is being given to having Ross work out of the bullpen.

      • masterfishkeeper - Jul 24, 2015 at 9:42 AM

        MW said on the radio Wednesday that he thought Ross’s inning limit was around 160. So you nailed that.

  6. natsnatsnatswoo - Jul 24, 2015 at 9:07 AM

    “Roark is finally starting to show cracks for the first time in his career”

    Unless you count being 6-17 with a 4.39 ERA and 1.409 WHIP at Syracuse in 2012 as a crack, that is. Maybe it’s just me, but that looks like a pretty big crack. Almost Grand Canyon level, really.

    • jd - Jul 24, 2015 at 9:11 AM

      I think Chase was referring to his major league career.

      • natsnatsnatswoo - Jul 24, 2015 at 9:46 AM

        Chase is a long long way from ever having a major league career of his own. He’s a AAAA writer all the way.

      • therealjohnc - Jul 24, 2015 at 11:19 AM

        Says the anonymous internet commenter lol

      • Soul Possession, My Sofa - Jul 24, 2015 at 12:02 PM

        Chase may have been called up a bit too soon, but up he is.

  7. coop202 - Jul 24, 2015 at 9:14 AM

    There’s always an interesting line between “he can work it out” and “something is just wrong”. I’d throw Roark into the former and Fister into the latter. Roark was the only stability in our bullpen early in the year, but it seems that once he was forced back into the rotation he’s had trouble getting his game together again. Fister seems to just be missing something; could be hitting a wall age-wise but a quick DL stint when Stras gets back might be good for resetting his season.

    I think people might be putting too much in Joe Ross’ hands right now – besides the inning limitations he’s on his first swing through the division. The lowly Mets had him lined up pretty well. I like him (someone mentioned he was Zimmermann-esc and I agree) but he’s a work in progress still even with the big league success to date.

    We need Fister, and Fister came through for us last year. I’ll stick with him just as I’ve stuck with the “desi is our best option and has to figure it out” train. It got real lonely on that one.

    • coop202 - Jul 24, 2015 at 9:16 AM

      Also what else did you expect? Pitt is a top 3 team in the league and we’re throwing the Pnats out there. I’d be happy with 1 of the next three if we don’t get any reinforcements before then (Cespedes please!).

      • therealjohnc - Jul 24, 2015 at 11:20 AM

        Where would you put Cespedes when Span and Werth are back?

      • Soul Possession, My Sofa - Jul 24, 2015 at 12:08 PM

        Cincinnati.

      • Soul Possession, My Sofa - Jul 24, 2015 at 12:18 PM

        Remember when Rendon came up? You could see him learning almost pitch by pitch. It was awesome. Michael A is almost doing that, now. It’s almost as if he’s prioritizing RISP situations — on offense and defense — and saving the detailed stuff for later, like a deliberately situational learning curve, because he can’t learn everything at once, and they need the results.

      • Soul Possession, My Sofa - Jul 24, 2015 at 12:21 PM

        I almost wrote “almost” in every sentence there, too.

      • coop202 - Jul 24, 2015 at 12:21 PM

        I’m fully expecting not to have all three of Zimm, Werth and Span healthy in the playoffs. Not sure why everyone believes that a team that has been brittle all year will stop being brittle all of the sudden just because players are close to being back. It’s not like the off-season provides wear and tear.

        I also don’t think Werth and Zimm go back to their former selves, where as Cespedes’ bat is similar to Zimmerman’s at his peak. If you want to win this year, you need more or just plain luck.

      • coop202 - Jul 24, 2015 at 12:30 PM

        @ soul possession, Rendon and Taylor are very different. Rendon was the best bat in college baseball two years running and only dropped to us because of injury concerns in college. He was one of the most pro-ready bats in the last decade coming out of college.

        I like MAT a ton for the future, but right now he looks a worse version of Bernadina with a lot better clutch hitting. For example, stat lines for the shark pre his breakout 2012 campaign were about .250 BA, .300OBP and .680 OPS with about 60k’s. MAT is .230BA, .270OBP and .621OPS with already 90k’s.

  8. jd - Jul 24, 2015 at 9:23 AM

    coop202,

    I agree with you almost 100%. I am very optimistic about Ross long term and I even feel very confident in him every time he is out there this year, I just don’t think the Nats should put too much in that basket this year. The part I don’t agree with on is when you say that the Mets had him lined up, I think he mowed them down pretty well and if it weren’t for a ghastly error by Robinson he may very well have won his game 2-1.

    I agree we need Fister, again, if Stras returns healthy and effective then we only need Fister as a bottom of the rotation guy. I don’t believe in phantom DL stints if a player isn’t hurt. Fister spoke of having trouble getting proper arm slots this year and that happens. He is not a pitcher who has a lot of wiggle room, he can’t blow people away, if his sinker isn’t working he is in trouble. Still he is still relatively young and he has a track record so let’s not throw him out with the trash just yet.

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