5. Fister vs the Phillies: In explaining the decision to line Doug Fister up fifth in the Nationals' rotation this season in the 31-year-old right-hander's second campaign with Washington following the late 2013 trade that brought him to the nation's capital from Detroit, Nationals' skipper Matt Williams told reporters, including Washington Post writer James Wagner, that he thought Fister would best be able to handle the long layoff between his final Spring start and his first regular season outing.
Fister started the Nationals' final exhibition game last Saturday night in Nats Park, holding the New York Yankees to four hits and two runs, both earned, in six innings of work, while inducing seven ground ball outs from the 22 batters he faced. Williams liked what he saw from Fister in that outing and in Grapefruit League action this Spring.
"It's been good," he said. "Spring Training for a veteran guy is about getting work in and building arm strength and all of that. He came out today with a really good fastball in the first inning. Touched 90. For him, that's good, with all the movement. He worked through his breaking balls early today and we got him to his pitch count that he wanted to get to."
Coming off a 2014 campaign in which he was (16-6) in 25 starts with a 2.41 ERA, 3.93 FIP, 24 walks (1.35 BB/9), 98 Ks (5.38 K/9) and a 48.9% ground ball percentage (down from 2014's 54.3% GB%, but close to his career 49.2% GB%), Fister started his seventh major league campaign tonight in Philadelphia, facing a Phillies team he was (1-2) against in three starts last season, with a 3.66 ERA and a .267/.313/.480 line against in 19 ⅔ IP against the Nats' divisional rivals.
Fister's first 2015 start against the Phillies began with a scoreless 18-pitch first which ended when Phillies' second baseman Chase Utley was thrown out at home trying to score from first on a Ryan Howard liner to right.
Bryce Harper collected it in the right field corner and threw a strike to Danny Espinosa, who threw a one-hopper home to Nats' catcher Wilson Ramos, who made the tag.
Phillies' outfielder Odubel Herrera worked a 10-pitch, two-out walk off of Fister in the second, but a groundout to first off Andres Blanco's bat ended a 20-pitch frame. 38 total.
Cole Hamels and Ben Revere hit back-to-back singles to start the Philly third, but Freddy Galvis bunted one back to the mound allowing Fister to get a force at third. Chase Utley stepped in with two runners on and one out and went down swinging at an 80 mph 2-2 cutter outside. Ryan Howard's lineout to center ended an 18-pitch frame that left Fister at 56 pitches.
A quick, seven-pitch, 1-2-3 fourth left Fister at 63 pitches overall. His 66th pitch of the game was lined to left for a leadoff single by Andres Blanco in the bottom of the fifth. Cole Hamels bunted back toward the mound, so Wilson Ramos threw to second aggressively, but by Ian Desmond and into center. With runners on first and second, Ben Revere laid down another weak bunt, allowing Fister to get a force at third for out no.1. Freddy Galvis sent a fly to center for out no.2, and Chase Utley lined out to first. 11-pitch frame, 74 total.
Groundouts no.10, 11 and 12 got Fister through a quick, nine-pitch, 1-2-3 sixth. 83 pitches. Still 1-0 Nats after six.
Andres Blanco dumped a one-out single into short right in the Phillies' seventh, and Matt Williams decided to go to the pen for left-hander Matt Thornton... [ed. note - "Continued below in no.1"]
• Doug Fister's Line: 6.1 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 95 P, 61 S, 12/1 GO/FO.
4. Harper vs Hamels: The last time Bryce Harper faced Cole Hamels, back on July 9, 2013, the left-handed hitting outfielder went 0 for 3 with a walk and a K, leaving him 8 for 25 (.320/.393/.360) with a double, two walks and four strikeouts in 28 plate appearances against the 31-year-old, 2002 1st Round pick. Harper was available, but didn't face Hamels in any of the four starts the left-hander made against the Nationals last season.
Hamels was (0-2) with a 2.96 ERA, eight walks (2.63 BB/9) and 23 Ks (7.57 K/9) in 27 ⅓ IP in those outings, holding Nats' hitters to a combined .223/.277/.379 line and leaving himself (15-8) in 32 career starts against the Phillies' NL East rivals, with a 2.63 ERA, 55 walks (2.33 BB/9), 213 Ks (9.04 K/9) and a .222/.277/.346 line against.
Harper and Hamels faced off for the first time since July of 2013 tonight, renewing a "rivalry" that began back on May 6, 2012, when the Philly lefty decided to drill the then-19-year-old, 2010 no.1 overall pick in the numbers, explaining to reporters after the game that he did, in fact, do it intentionally.
"'I was trying to hit him,'" Hamels said. "'I'm not going to deny it.'" But why? "'It's just, 'Welcome to the big leagues,'" Hamels responded, before saying it was a way of continuing an old tradition in baseball.
Harper responded by working his way around the bases, taking third on a single and then stealing home off the southpaw.
The latest chapter in the head-to-head matchup between the two continued tonight with Harper stepping in with a runner on first and one down in the top of the first inning and going to a full count and walking on a 3-2 fastball low and away.
At bat no.2 for Harper came in the third, with a runner on second and two out. He lined out to right to end the frame. Harper 8 for 26 career vs Hamels, 0 for 1 w/ a walk tonight.
Harper grounded out to second the third time up. 8 for 27.
• Cole Hamels' Line: 7.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 Ks, 1 HR, 104 P, 70 S, 14/0 GO/FO.
3. That Offensive Spark?: Phillies' right-hander Jerome Williams gave up a home run in the first at bat of last night's game, and a single by Bryce Harper later in the first, but held the Nationals to just three hits after the first inning of the series opener in Citizens Bank Park. What did he do to keep the Nats' bats at bay?
"He throws a lot of different pitches for strikes," Nats' skipper Matt Williams said after the Nationals dropped a 4-1 decision.
"The ball sinks and he cuts it. Veteran pitcher, knows what he's doing out there. We hit some balls hard early, the balls didn't get in, but he worked his way through it. We couldn't scratch more than that one."
It's only four games in, and the Nationals are missing their 1-2-and-3 hitters from last season right now, but they have yet to produce much offensively. Williams was asked after last night's loss if there's anything that can be done to light a spark and get the bats going?
"Just got to keep running them out there," Williams said. "The guys in our lineup have been there before. They've had success, they've done it, so we're not worried about that. Just keep going with it. There are no excuses for not scoring enough runs, but we believe in our guys, we believe in their ability, and we'll just keep going."
In the second game of three in CBP, the Nats got off to a good start with Yunel Escobar singling to right and Bryce Harper walking with one down. Ryan Zimmerman grounded into a force at second, but hustled to first to avoid the double play, leaving it up to Wilson Ramos to try to drive a run in. Ramos sent one back to the mound to end a 23-pitch first by Cole Hamels.
In his second at bat vs Hamels tonight, Ramos came through, however, hitting a 92 mph 1-0 fastball outside out to right for a solo blast and a 1-0 lead in the fourth.
2. Turning Point(s): Wilson Ramos gave the Nationals another 1-0 lead over the Phillies with the opposite field blast above, but it was one of just two hits for the Nats' struggling offense off Cole Hamels through five. Ramos put the Nats up 1-0, but also helped cut down a run on the back end of a relay in from right in the Phillies' first, catching a throw that went from Bryce Harper to Danny Espinosa to home to catch Chase Utley on a two-out line drive to right by Ryan Howard. Big game for the so-called "Buffalo" in CBP.
The Phillies' awful bunts could qualify as turning points as well, as they put runners on first and second in the second and fifth and bunted into forces at third in both instances, sending weak rollers back to the mound each time.
Trying to give up an out and failing to even advance the runners = awful.
Blake Treinen gave up a single by Chase Utley and a double by Ryan Howard, but it was a misplay up the middle by Danny Espinosa/Ian Desmond that really hurt the Nats' right-handed reliever in the eighth inning as the Phillies tied things up after entering the inning down 2-0...
1. The Wrap-Up: Matt Thornton came on with a runner on first and one out in the seventh to face pinch hitter Darin Ruf after a single to right by Andres Blanco ended Doug Fister's night. Ruf popped out to Ryan Zimmerman in foul territory off first for out no.2. Ben Revere lined out to right to end the frame. Still 1-0 Nationals.
#NRSOD?: Danny Espinosa stepped in against Phillies' righty Jeanmar Gomez in the eighth, from the left side(?) and lined a double to right field to start the frame. Clint Robinson stepped in as a pinch hitter and after a wild pitch moved Espinosa to third, hit an RBI single to center to make it 2-0 Nationals.
Blake Treinen gave up a one-out single to left by Chase Utley that brought Ryan Howard to the plate as the potential tying run. Howard doubled to left, off the top of the wall, to drive Utley in and cut the Nats' lead in half, 2-1.
Carlos Ruiz sent a grounder back up the middle in the next at bat and Danny Espinosa cut in front of Ian Desmond and had it bounce off his glove, by Desmond and into center field. Pinch runner Cesar Hernandez scored to tie it up at 2-2. Grady Sizemore doubled by first in the next at bat, sending Carlos Ruiz around to third, but on a grounder to second in the next at bat, Ruiz was gunned down at home on a strong throw by Danny Espinosa. Two down, first and third for Andres Blanco, who K'd looking at a 1-2 slider outside. Tied at 2-2 after eight.
After a scoreless top of the ninth by Jonathan Papelbon, Jeff Francoeur doubled to right field off Craig Stammen to start the home-half of the frame. Ben Revere K'd swinging for the first out of the frame. Freddy Galvis K'd on a check-swing strike three. Chase Utley got an intentional free pass to bring Cesar Hernandez up with two on and two out, worked the count full and went down swinging. Extras.
Michael Taylor walked with one down in the tenth and stole second with Yunel Escobar at the plate, but he was thrown out trying to score on a line drive to left when Ben Revere fired a strike to the plate. Bryce Harper got the intentionals from Dustin McGowan, bringing Ryan Zimmerman up with two on and two out, and Zim K'd swinging. Still 2-2.
Tanner Roark gave up a leadoff single to left by Carlos Ruiz, who tagged and took second on a flyout to left by Grady Sizemore. Oduber Herrera lined an 0-2 pitch to right to win it. Ballgame.
Nationals now 1-4