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Fister’s struggles continue, as Strasburg nears return

Aug 4, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT

USA Today

Doug Fister was the Nationals’ most consistent pitcher for much of last season, but in 2015 he just hasn’t been the same.

The right-hander struggled once again in Monday night’s 6-4 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks with five earned runs allowed on eight hits, including three home runs. The three homers were the most he’s given up since his forgettable debut with the team last May, and they tied a career-high.

Fister has now matched his earned runs total from all of last season at 44. Last year he gave up that many in 164 innings, this season he sits at just 86.

Fister has allowed four earned runs or more in eight of his last 13 starts. He did that just four times in 25 outings in 2014.

Why Fister is pitching so poorly is not an easy question to answer. After he struggled through April and May he went on the disabled list with a right forearm strain. But since his return he now holds a 4.86 ERA (25 ER in 46.1 IP) in eight starts.

Health is not the issue, the Nationals insist, so what is?

“I’m going after them. I’m attacking with my best stuff,” Fister explained. “It doesn’t have the deception. It doesn’t have the sink on it. It’s a lot flatter and straighter. These guys are good hitters. I have to respect that. I have to make a quality pitch and if not they are going to make me pay for it.”

“He feels fine. He threw 110-plus tonight and didn’t have any issues,” Matt Williams said.

Fister is certainly frustrated with the results and keeps circling back to his mechanics when searching for a solution.

“For me the obvious answer is going out there and being able to repeat my delivery and repeat the quality of pitch. Early on, again, I was able to make those pitches count down in the zone, in off the plate. And doing that toward the end of the game, too. Now it’s just a matter of being more consistent,” he said.

Williams hopes Fister can improve on keeping his pitches down in the zone.

“For him, it’s about down angle, the ball moving down. When the ball is up, he doesn’t have a chance to do that. It moves laterally, especially to the left-handers who can stay on the baseball and hit it to the middle of the diamond. If it’s sinking, then you find what you found in the first couple of innings where it’s rolling over, grounders, it’s early in the count outs and he’s in command. But when he gets up, it’s just a lot easier for a hitter to hit,” he said.

Monday’s loss just happened to put the Nationals in second place in the NL East for the first time since June 19. Fister’s poor outing also just happened to come on the night of Stephen Strasburg’s second minor league rehab game, a convincing performance of 11 strikeouts and no walks with Triple-A Syracuse.

When Strasburg returns to the rotation, possibly this weekend, the Nationals will have a decision to make. The odd-man out is likely to be rookie Joe Ross, who was called up to fill in for Strasburg. But given Fister’s struggles and the timing of his turn in the rotation, could they do something unexpected?

Fister was indispensable for the Nats in 2014 and their rotation would be much stronger with an effective version of him. But the pennant race is starting to heat up and they need to get him going sooner than later.

  1. stoatva - Aug 4, 2015 at 10:04 AM

    Fister has allowed four earned runs or more in eight of his last 13 starts.

    That is, y’know… unacceptable. Now watch us accept it.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 4, 2015 at 10:30 AM

      It’s worse than Haren 2013 and EJax 2012.

      • jfmii - Aug 4, 2015 at 11:08 AM

        Agreed

    • npb99 - Aug 4, 2015 at 11:27 AM

      His performance has been a major disappointment this year. Approaching Desi levels.

  2. Greg - Aug 4, 2015 at 10:13 AM

    Sad to say but I think Fister has shown he’s not one of the best 5 starters on the team and the sample size is large enough to justify benching him.

    Also I dislike the day to day changing the the batting order with everyone but Span back. Matt needs to let the everyday guys get comfortable in a spot.

  3. alexva6 - Aug 4, 2015 at 10:15 AM

    “He feels fine He threw 110-plus tonight and didn’t have any issues”

    I would suggest that his failures are due to his not feeling fine regardless of what public comments are made

    • adcwonk - Aug 4, 2015 at 11:58 AM

      It could be that he’s fine, but his mechanics are messed up. My (very limited) understanding is that mechanics are a little bit harder for a guy who’s 6′ 8″ and who’s main pitch is not a power pitch.

  4. Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 4, 2015 at 10:29 AM

    Time for Fister to go on the DL and Strasburg can take his spot.

    Fister must have some inflammation 😉

  5. Mrsb loves the Nats - Aug 4, 2015 at 10:30 AM

    I think Fister has that same issue that Dan Haren had while he was here…

    • ArVAFan - Aug 4, 2015 at 11:28 AM

      Yes, and the same treatment should be prescribed.

  6. scnatsfan - Aug 4, 2015 at 10:44 AM

    I remember being worried in ST when he has giving up long ball after long ball. You can go from hero to zero in the blink of an eye in the show (sounds like that should have been in Bull Durham).

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 4, 2015 at 10:58 AM

      Yep. Last night it looked like he was on his game through the 1st 2 innings. Got to a 3-1 count on Ahmed and threw his 1st stinker of the night. The 2nd HR was to Peralta who kept his hands back and got a dead red changeup that dissected the middle of the zone as a fatty. Totally missed the pitch location and the ball was inches past a leaping MAT. The 3rd HR was a stinker that also missed location and was crushed.

      Tough to watch and Fister just looks defeated to me.

  7. bowdenball - Aug 4, 2015 at 10:55 AM

    This isn’t some sort of mystery. Fister’s velocity is way down, at a remarkable 85.9 average after hovering between 88 and 90 his entire career. Even though he’s not a power pitcher you still need some velocity to allow for location and movement to work. Otherwise a hitter can stay back that much longer and negate some of the effectiveness of the location and movement. The result is the highest LD% of his career and his worst HR and K numbers since 2010.

    The biggest mystery is why nobody in the media is discussing it when the numbers are right there on his fangraphs page.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 4, 2015 at 11:00 AM

      That’s correct as I just finished writing in the changeup. You can stay back and react as Peralta did and the only way to be effective is movement and location like Livan did it during his better games.

    • masterfishkeeper - Aug 4, 2015 at 11:50 AM

      Bowdenball, his velocity was back up to 88 two or three starts ago. Brooks says it was 87 average last night. So it’s not great, but not quiet as bad as earlier in the year.

      I think the media just falls for the “velocity doesn’t matter for a sinkerball pitcher” myth. Remember Mike Boddicker? Soft tosser who was great for a couple of years, but when his velocity dropped he was batting practice.

  8. jd - Aug 4, 2015 at 11:03 AM

    I don’t think at this point that it’s important to know why he is not able to pitch effectively, the bigger question is how likely is he to pitch effectively going forward? to me the answer is not very. I don’t think we are in position to play ‘lets hope for the best here’. Ross has been effective every time out and I think we have to ride that horse as far as we can. If Ross can get us to September and we skip the 5th starter whenever possible thereafter we can then decide if we want to go with Fister or Roark to spot start.

    I’d go as far as to say I wouldn’t mind if someone picks up Fister on waivers and we negotiate a trade for something useful for either now or the future. This way you don’t have to worry about a qualifying offer in the off season.

    • adcwonk - Aug 4, 2015 at 12:00 PM

      If Ross can get us to September and we skip the 5th starter whenever possible thereafter we can then decide if we want to go with Fister or Roark to spot start.

      Skipping the fifth spot then puts more innings on the rest of ’em. Some folks are a bit haunted by how terribly Scherzer and Kershaw did in the playoffs last year.

  9. jfmii - Aug 4, 2015 at 11:14 AM

    Yes, assuming Stras can stay healthy, I think Ross should take Fister’s spot until he has to be shut down; then unless something changes between now and then, Roark should get the starts thereafter.

  10. Doc - Aug 4, 2015 at 11:14 AM

    Right now, Fister is not the best option that we have for 5th starter—Joe Cool is.

    As suggested, a Dan Haren-like DL move for Fister may be the Nats’ best shot!

  11. jfmii - Aug 4, 2015 at 11:15 AM

    bowdenball, absolutely correct. Velocity. Big difference between high 80’s and 85.

    • jfmii - Aug 4, 2015 at 11:16 AM

      Looks like he is serving up batting practice with his “fast” ball.

  12. micksback1 - Aug 4, 2015 at 11:18 AM

    Frankly, Nats do not look like a post season team, MW is not even one of the top 15 managers in MLB

    very sad and disappointing. MW simply is terrible!!!

    • jd - Aug 4, 2015 at 11:45 AM

      Yeah you are right Mick. Why don’t we just quit on the team now so we can quit again tomorrow and the day after?

      • micksback1 - Aug 4, 2015 at 11:52 AM

        so you have no problem with MW destroying this team, OK

    • adcwonk - Aug 4, 2015 at 12:01 PM

      Frankly, Nats do not look like a post season team,

      Irrevelent — the important thing is whether they look like a post season team *two months* from now

      • nats106 - Aug 4, 2015 at 12:33 PM

        To look like a post season team you have to be playing like one in September. If we start playing like one in two months, it’s too late.

        I’d say we need them to start looking like a post season team soon, otherwise we’re back to 2013-best team in baseball from mid-August on but sitting on the outside looking in.

        Mick you are right about MW-I continue to be mystified by what he is doing.

        Has there been an Espinosa sighting anywhere on the field lately?

      • adcwonk - Aug 4, 2015 at 1:30 PM

        “To look like a post season team you have to be playing like one in September”

        We might have both Span and Strasburg back by Sept. Then we’ll look different, right?

        On this date last year, the Royal were limping along with the AL’s 7th best record (just one game ahead of AL’s 9th best record).

        Yeah, the Nats need to kick it in gear, but looking like a playoff team in early August is not a pre-requisite.

        The Brewers looked like a playoff team this time last year — they were in first, ahead of the Cards and Pirates and Reds.

        Then they limped home the rest of the summer, finishing 82-80.

      • therealjohnc - Aug 4, 2015 at 4:20 PM

        The 2000 Yankees somehow managed to lose 15 of their final 18 games in September. They also somehow managed to win the World Series.

  13. micksback1 - Aug 4, 2015 at 11:50 AM

    Fister struggles is another example of MW and Cat having no clue about there pitching staff. First off, if Nats had won either Friday’s or Sat games verse Mets, the Fister disaster would not be as magnified as it is.

    MW cost the Nat both games verse Mets with his stupid and illogical decisions, one to allow Ross to go Beyond his 6 innings in a key game they needed, and two, to keep Rivero in a 3rd inning: INEXCUSABLE, no explanation given, just a bull crap lie about availability that losers like MW spew when they look stupid.

    as far as Fister goes, he is done for 2015. nats must go with Ross and hope Stras comes back strong. if not, I predict Nats will struggle to finisih ahead of the Braves and 500

    • Bruxtun - Aug 4, 2015 at 12:01 PM

      Hindsight is 20/10 for some people. I don’t think Williams lost either of those games against the Mets. There were 9 guys on the field that did that. MW isn’t great, but not every failure is his fault. You’re spewing your own crap right now and it’s obnoxious. There are enough real problems and failures to whine about without having to make up new ones.

      • adcwonk - Aug 4, 2015 at 12:06 PM

        But haven’t you heard, Bruxton, that every time Ian swings and misses it’s Rick Schu’s fault? And that every time Fister throws a gopher-ball it’s McCatty’s fault? And that, in turn, is MW’s fault (not sure how to connect the dots, but it’s apparently true), and all that is clearly Rizzo’s fault!

        You’re deviating from the “we’ve hit a losing streak” program!! 😉

      • micksback1 - Aug 4, 2015 at 4:19 PM

        Let me begin my response by directing it to Wonk’s crap ass post about Schu…I never ONCE blamed Schu for Desi, period!!!

        As far as your attack on me, number one who the f are you?? I have never seen you before and number two, according too you i made up MW keeping in Rivero too long and Ross too long, right. The Ross confidence we will see in the next game. To put that young man in that position when even he felt he dome his job is awful coaching. You can go to hell because your attacked me without addressing my two points on both Rivero and Ross The only one obnoxious is you pal.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Aug 4, 2015 at 5:04 PM

        Wow.

  14. micksback1 - Aug 4, 2015 at 11:51 AM

    also, Thank You MW for hurting Ross’ confidence. what a truly stupid manager!!!

    • scnatsfan - Aug 4, 2015 at 12:00 PM

      I don’t believe he’s done anything to set him back. I’ve been critical of MW but not here.

      • micksback1 - Aug 4, 2015 at 4:23 PM

        maybe Ross is fine, you all miss the point…that move can not do anything to help Ross

        1) He had never gone beyond 7 innings

        2. most important STOOGE MW blew the game the night before by NOT pulling Rivero, one would think he would not make the same mistake.by pushing the envelope and having Ross go in the 7th when he had other options.

        The defenders of MW are the same defenders of Dan Synder, that is all one needs to know,

    • adcwonk - Aug 4, 2015 at 12:02 PM

      How in the world did he hurt Ross’ confidence? By showing confidence in him and letting him start a seventh inning?

    • adcwonk - Aug 4, 2015 at 12:10 PM

      also, Thank You MW for hurting Ross’ confidence.

      The more I think about this statement, the more astounded I am.

      Ross was sitting at 84 pitches through six innings. If he had been lifted it would have been the second shortest outing of the year for him. Heck, Ross pitched 8 innings in his second start, and pitched into the 8th in his third start — both times with more pitches. So what in the world is the problem for Ross to pitch into the 7th inning this weekend (please also factor in that Ross had just retired six straight Mets including four on strike outs)?

      • bowdenball - Aug 4, 2015 at 12:59 PM

        I don’t think MW hurt Ross’ confidence by leaving him in, that’s stupid.

        However it was also DEFINITELY the wrong move to leave him in on Saturday night. It doesn’t matter how the outing compares to his previous ones in terms of length. All that matters is winning the game. The bullpen gave the Nats a better chance to win than sending out Ross for the 7th to face some difficult lefties, including the one that had previously homered off him. I don’t even think it was close. That’s the entire reason you got Papelbon- so that you can move Storen to the 8th and use more effective relievers and matchups in the 7th. Hell if you’re that worried about the heart of the order, go ahead and think outside the box and use Storen in the 7th and the matchup guys in the 8th.

      • adcwonk - Aug 4, 2015 at 1:23 PM

        I agree — except that I thought I read here on this board that MW had said that Storen was “cranky” — meaning: not feeling well.

        If I remember correctly.

        But Ross was completely cruising. I don’t think it was the wrong move. He’d pitched into the 7th in 3 of his prior four starts, and was pitching one of his best games of his short career thus far. He had only allowed two hits all game at that point.

        All the more so if Storen wasn’t available. Then your choice is a strong Ross who’s been cruising, and then mix-and-match relievers, for the bullpen we’ve all been complaining about, for the 7th and 8th?

      • jd - Aug 4, 2015 at 1:39 PM

        BB,

        I think the choice basically was: Jansen vs. Ross (I know you could have used Rivero there but that goes against everything MW holds dear). I would rather stay with a still effective Ross in that situation over Jansen, as was said here Ross was showing no signs of loss of effectiveness.

        In this case I don’t think this was an egregious move.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Aug 4, 2015 at 5:08 PM

        U mad bro?

      • dclivejazz - Aug 4, 2015 at 7:09 PM

        Ross did 8 innings against the Brewers. He pitched 7 against the Pirates. It wasn’t completely unreasonable to let him pitch into the 7th Sat night considering he had been cruising.

  15. senators69 - Aug 4, 2015 at 12:08 PM

    You guys see our buddy Adam LaRoche pitch last week?
    He hit 85 or so, about Fisters velo.

    • adcwonk - Aug 4, 2015 at 12:11 PM

      Ha!!

      While ALR has more power, in Fister’s defense, his batting average is higher than ALR’s! 😉

    • natsfan1a - Aug 4, 2015 at 1:05 PM

      No, I hadn’t seen that. I know it was on his bucket list, so he can cross that one off.

  16. idus1926 - Aug 4, 2015 at 12:43 PM

    At the beginning of the season I made the remark here that we should have traded our three impending free agents in the winter, for different reasons. Desmond is too intense to relaxe on the field and at the plate while trying to prove that he deserves more money, Fister was a revelation to National Leauge hitters but they know him now and they just lay off on his slider and breaking ball, waiting for his very mediocre fasball, and finally in case of Jordan Zimmermann, we should have capitalized on his perfect game because he is basically a fastball pitcher, who is batted around the second or third time in the rotation. I don’t know what kind of haul we would have gotten for them but one thing is certain: with Espinoza at short we would have at least three more victories. Now we can watch a wastly improved Mets, with a much better rotation.

  17. langleyclub - Aug 4, 2015 at 1:38 PM

    While I agree that it was mistake to leave Ross in the game last Saturday, the pitch that Duda homered on in the 7th was moving and right on the outside corner. Ross made a great pitch; great location; still had his velocity. That ball is hit for a home run about 1 out of every 500 pitches, if not less. Duda was just in the zone. BTW, the argument for bringing in Thornton to start the inning took a pretty big hit when Thornton gave up the lead two innings later when Duda doubled off of him.

    Again, I would’ve started Thornton in the top of the 7th as the Mets had 2 lefties out of the first 3, but not fair to say that move cost the Nats the game. Didn’t appear that anyone was getting Lucas Duda out that night.

    The fact is that the Nats lineup sucks right now, and every starter other than Scherzer is having a poor year.

    If someone said at the start of the year that omn August 4th:

    – Werth, Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman and Denard Span would all miss more than half of the season;
    – Strasburg would miss more than half of his starts through the beginning of August;
    – Ian Desmond would be hitting below .220 and lead the NL in errors;
    – Wilson Ramos would struggle and essentially act as ablack hole offensively;
    – Fister, Jordan Zimmerman, Tanner Roark would all regress;
    – Blake Treinen would be sent back inthe minors due to erratic performance;
    – MAT would be #2 on the team in RBI

    Given the foregoing, don’t think many would expect the team to above .500 or within a game of 1st place at this point. Rather than grouse about not being 1st pace, we should all feel fortunate that this team is not to far out of it to salvage the season. I have no doubt that Rendon will be very productive from here on out; that Werth and Ryan Zimmerman will start producing more runs; that the starting staff will improve, and the bullpen is better (with Papelbon and Storen) than it has been all year. This team will make a big run over the last 8 weeks of the season.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 4, 2015 at 1:50 PM

      Did you see the HR Duda hit off of JZim? A few inches inside and up off the plate. Very few could hit that out and Duda did.

      Ross pitched great. Duda is locked in like a heat seeking missile. Good luck shutting him down while he’s this hot. Ross had thrown only 84 pitches. He’s thrown more than 84 in all but 1 start and in fact has thrown over 100 twice out of his 6 starts. That experience could be an important start for him as that had playoff intensity. He left the game tied at 2-2.

      It wasn’t the pitching as much as the lack of Nats offense and horrendous umpiring and some bad luck. Small sample size. Win tonight and keep winning.

      • jd - Aug 4, 2015 at 1:55 PM

        Well there was some crappy pitching by one Mr. Thornton who I would not let anywhere near a tight game. Mop up sounds pretty good to me.

    • jd - Aug 4, 2015 at 1:54 PM

      langley,

      You are right, it’s been a whacky (not in a good way) season. Pretty much everything has gone wrong. In addition to your points:

      – Escobar got hurt in spring training and has since been unable to play the position he was slotted for.
      – A.J.Cole has taken a backwards step in his development.
      – Stammen out for the year (underrated issue).

      On the positive side of the ledger:

      – Emergence of Turner and Ross.
      – Escobar much more productive than anticipated.
      – Harper’s emergence as a super star.
      – Drew Storen’s return to top form.
      – Danny Espinosa
      – Felipe Rivero
      – Clint Robinson.

      OK so I guess not everything went wrong. I just feels that way right now.

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