Washington Nationals' right-hander Doug Fister didn't have his best stuff on Wednesday night in the series finale with the Colorado Rockies, but he still managed to throw seven strong innings in which he was hit hard at times but managed to earn the win.
The 30-year-old right-hander allowed seven hits and three earned runs, all on a second inning home run by Rockies' catcher Michael McKenry, but he limited the damage and kept Colorado off the board after that as his teammates battled back for yet another comeback win in the nation's capital.
"Constant battle all night," Fister told reporters after the game. "The biggest thing was making sure that the ball got down in the zone. Left a few balls over the plate and they made me pay for them. Really had to struggle to keep that going after that, so the keys were the guys played defense. They came out and played well and sacrificed a lot, whether it diving or just sacrificing themselves to make the play, that was big."
"Doug was a little bit up early," Matt Williams said after the Nationals' fifth straight win. "A little it up in the zone. Felt really strong, so the indication for him is the ball gets up in the strike zone a little bit. Made some nice plays behind him. The three-run homer from [Michael] McKenry early put us in a hole, but he battled through. Found it a little bit in the last couple innings he pitched, down in the zone a little bit, it's probably because he got a little more tired. He gave us a chance. We came back and big homer by [Ian Desmond] and that put us ahead."
Fister retired 11 of the last 13 batters he faced on Wednesday night, and he earned the win to improve to (7-2) on the year with a 2.93 ERA, a 3.96 FIP, six walks (0.76 BB/9) and 42 Ks (5.35 K/9) in 70 ⅔ IP.
Asked about Williams' assertion that he was strong at the start and up in the zone, then a little more able to command his pitches down in the strike zone when he tired, Fister politely disagreed.
"I don't think it was too strong," the right-hander said, "it's just more of a timing thing. I wasn't letting my arm catch up. Getting a little quick. I don't want to say it's mechanical, it's just a mental adjustment that I need to go back out there and get it done."
"It was definitely not my best stuff," Fister said though. "It was definitely a battle all night. It's something that at that point it becomes a really big emphasis on team baseball and letting those guys work behind me, saying, 'Here it is,' let them hit it and there was a lot of strong contact tonight but guys made some great plays and that's again what team baseball is all about. That's guys are picking me up and making a lot of mistakes, but again they're doing a tremendous job back there."
Fister's teammates picked him up defensively and offensively, battling back against Rockies' lefty Tyler Matzek and the Colorado bullpen.
"It's a lift that those guys are back there busting their butt and playing the game the way they know how and the way they're sacrificing for me is something that I'm truly grateful."
His teammates are equally grateful for Fister's efforts and the quick pace he works at on the mound. Desmond, who tied the game with an RBI single in the fourth and then put the Nationals ahead 4-3 with a seventh inning home run, talked afterwards about how important this winter's trade with the Tigers for Fister has been, and how much the pitcher's work on the mound inspired the offense to step up for him.
"That's what I think Mike [Rizzo] brought him here for, you know," the 28-year-old shortstop told reporters.
"He wasn't sharp early, he identified it, made the adjustment and continued to hold it to that three runs. And gave us a chance to win the ballgame. Can't give him enough credit for how fast he works and pitching in the strike zone. That's something that our other starters are feeding off of. But yeah, I would say that to watch him battle through it kind of gave me a little extra edge when I was out there."
Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo too, in an interview with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier on Thursday talked about what Fister brings to the rotation, his work on the mound and his ability to make the most of what he did have even on a night when he wasn't particularly sharp.
"He brings an attitude to that starting rotation," Rizzo said, "and he's a guy that's done it before in the highest-leverage type of games that there are and he's been a great performer in big games.
"He's a guy that we run out there every five days and he gives you a chance to win the game. The lesson [from] last night is that one inning doesn't dictate your start and you're going to have your great stuff about 30% of your starts, you're going to have poor stuff about 30% of your starts, it's that middle part that dictates what type of pitcher you are and you saw last night that Doug didn't have his great stuff, but good enough stuff and maybe a lesser pitcher would have folded up and let things spiral downhill and get away from him. He just takes them in stride and stays with his game play and keeps attacking hitters."