Back-to-back home runs on consecutive pitches ended Doug Fister's first start for the Washington Nationals in the fifth, but the 30-year-old right-hander was hit hard all night in the first game of the three-game weekend set in Oakland.
Before the Athletics took advantage of the Nats' starter's lack of command, however, it was an error that led to the A's first run of the game scoring. Fister, eager to get his season going upon returning a DL stint necessitated by a minor right lat strain, made an ill-advised attempt to throw Josh Donaldson out on a weak two-out grounder to the third base side of the mound in the bottom of the first, and the 6'8'' right-hander airmailed the throw to first for a two-base error that put the runner on third so Brandon Moss could drive him in with a two-out single. 1-0.
Nationals' skipper Matt Williams, trying to find the positives in what ended up a 4 1/3 inning outing in which his starter allowed nine hits, three of them home runs and seven runs total, five earned, noted that the play Fister attempted in the first was similar to the one he suffered the lat strain on in a minor league outing this spring.
"Granted he didn't throw it where he wanted to throw it," Williams said, "but he got off the mound -- it's kind of what he did when he hurt it -- got off the mound and threw the ball to first base and no problems. And he felt good. His arm felt good. Everything is fine. The ball was just up in the zone a little bit, so you find the positives out of it."
Fister summed up his struggles on the mound last night in the O.co Coliseum in three words.
"Lack of execution," he said. "That's basically what it is. I failed at it tonight and didn't go out there and get the job done."
Fister worked at a feverish pace throughout his time on the mound. His velocity was right where it has been for the past few seasons, but the command which has allowed him to induce ground balls at an impressive rate in the past, was not.
The veteran starter, in the first outing of his sixth major league season, was up in the zone all night and the A's hitters made him pay for his mistakes.
John Jaso hit an elevated 1-2 fastball out to center field and over the 388 ft sign on the high outfield wall in Oakland. With the score 4-0 A's in the fifth, Brandon Moss hit a hanging first-pitch curve out to center for a two-run blast and Yoenis Cespedes took a first-pitch fastball out to right on the very next pitch for the back-to-back blasts that ended Fister's outing.
"I was excited for it tonight," Fister told reporters after the Nationals' 8-0 loss in the series opener. "No more than normal. Went out there, prepared the same way, warmed up in the bullpen same as I always do and everything felt good. Going into the game, working on certain pitches, trying to keep it down in the zone, didn't do that very well tonight and they got quite a few hits off of it."
Williams made the decision earlier this week to throw Stephen Strasburg on regular rest in the series finale with LA on Wednesday afternoon in the nation's capital, meaning Fister would pitch on extra rest the first time out. The Nats' skipper said he thought that might have affected the former Detroit Tigers' starter's performance.
Fister threw two bullpen sessions in the seven days between his last rehab start and his 2014 debut for the Nationals, but he wasn't on a regular schedule like he will be going forward.
"He threw two [bullpens], but it's not like you're every five days either," Williams explained. "So, I think he'll be much better next time out."
"The ball just wasn't sinking much," he continued. "That's probably a case of feeling maybe too good. And certainly wanting to do well, but he'll be much better next time."
Fister said he didn't think the extra rest was behind his command issues.
"I don't feel like it was," he told a reporter who mentioned Williams' comments. "No matter what day you pitch, it's a matter of going out there and executing. Whether you're a little sore or whether you're feeling great, you've just got to make the adjustment and I didn't make the adjustment tonight."
"I felt like I was in the right place. I felt strong even at the end. But it was just one of those nights."