When a pitcher relies on his command and pitching to contact, things can get really ugly if he doesn't have it. We saw that last night with Doug Fister. It's doubtful that the two hour rain delay helped him any (Tyson Ross didn't look real sharp either), but this certainly wasn't the first time this season that we've seen Fister struggle with his command. The extreme sinker/control pitcher has had three multi-walk games in his seven appearances and has allowed five home runs in just 39.2 innings of work this season. His 40.9 GB% so far this season is 6.2% lower than it has been in any season since his rookie year in 2009. Fister's previous two starts gave us some hope that he was getting some of his issues ironed out, but last night was ugly.
Today's post will be a bit more visual than usual. I can either use 500 words talking about how Doug Fister left a lot of meaty fastballs down the heart of the plate or I can just show them to you. Let's start by having a look at every pitch that Fister threw last night. Then we'll break down some specific at bats.
Fister threw just 41 pitches last night before being removed after two innings. We'll note that Fister threw six pitches that were either strikes or borderline strikes that were near the bottom of the zone. I'm giving him credit for any pitches that were 2.2 feet or below and were either within the strike zone or touching the edge. For a pitcher without a ton of velocity who relies on inducing weak ground ball contact, that's just not going to cut it. Most of his misses that were low weren't close enough to even make the Padres' hitters consider offering.
While just six of his pitches were in the lower portion of the zone, Fister threw eight pitches that would be classified as middle-middle. These are pitches that are less than six inches from dead center horizontally and 2.35 feet or higher. Four of those pitches turned into hits. Two turned into foul balls. He got one called strike. He did retire one hitter on a pitch middle-middle as well. This isn't a recipe for success from a pitcher who lights up the radar gun. It's definitely not what a pitcher topping off at 87 MPH wants to be doing.
The zone plot above tells a story of its own, but let's take a look at some specific at bats, too. Oddly enough, Fister got the first two batters out in each of his two innings of work. Let's have a look at some of the batters he faced with two outs in the inning....
Matt Kemp: First inning
OK... Maybe this one wasn't terrible. Fister missed low and away with ball one. The 1-0 pitch was up, but at least it was on the inside corner and Kemp shouldn't have been able to extend his arms much on the swing. It still did catch a bit too much of the plate and Kemp drilled it towards the gap in left center. Jayson Werth did get to the ball quickly to hold him to a single.
Justin Upton: First Inning
Fister was really lucky to only give up a single here. He actually got ahead of Upton with one of his better pitches of the night, a sinker on the inside edge near the bottom of the zone. He came back with a fastball up and over the heart of the plate to a terrific power hitter. Upton grounded a sharp single through the shortstop hole.
Derek Norris: First inning
Fister seemed to want to attack Norris inside here, but he was up in the zone again. He missed with the first pitch off the inside corner and came back with a 1-0 fastball belt high on the inner half that Norris just drilled off the face of the second deck in left center field. It wasn't middle-middle, but it was up and it got tagged.
Jedd Gyorko: First inning
This is another pretty good power hitter, and Fister got away with quite a few pitches in this at bat. Three of his eight middle-middle pitches occurred in this at bat, but they resulted in one called strike and two foul balls. Gyorko actually eventually got him with a single on a fastball at the bottom of the zone.
Will Middlebrooks: First inning
Let's show an out! This ball was hard hit as well. The pitch was down a bit, but it was still down the heart of the plate and was roped into center field. Denard Span made a really nice read and a fantastic sliding grab to finally get Fister out of the first inning.
Corey Spangenberg: Second inning
When things aren't going right, bad luck tends to happen. Fister actually pitched Spangenberg pretty well here. He got a (very friendly) called strike on the first pitch, a sinker that was well off the plate away. Spangenberg then fouled off a pitch at the edge of the zone on the outside corner. Fister then got squeezed a little with an 0-2 count. He came back with a 1-2 sinker that was pretty well located, but Spangenberg went down and got it, blasting it over the fence in right center field.
Will Venable: Second inning
This one's simple to break down. It was a five pitch walk. His misses weren't particularly close. The strike was on a 3-0 fastball down the middle.
Matt Kemp: Second inning
Fastball middle-middle. Once again, Fister was lucky to only allow a single. Kemp lined it into left center field for a base hit.
Justin Upton: Second inning
Fister started this at bat with two bad misses inside, but Upton bailed him out on the first one as he wasn't able to check his swing. He came back with a curveball down the middle. Upton hit it through the middle past a diving Ian Desmond for an RBI single.
Derek Norris: Second inning
Fister missed down and away and came back with a hanging slider. Norris missed his second homer of the day by about two feet, instead settling for a two-run triple. Again, middle-middle.
Jedd Gyorko: Second inning
Gyorko really let him off the hook here. Fister threw five pitches. One was in the zone. None of the other four were really all that close. Gyorko chased a curveball in the dirt for strike two and a slider well off the plate for strike three. Mercifully, this ended Fister's night.
Finally, let's look at one Nats at bat
After falling behind 7-0, the Nats had a long road back. After the second inning, there was never really a point where it felt like the Nats were in the game, but there were a couple of instances where it felt like they could get themselves back into it. Trailing 8-2, Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman drew back to back walks to begin the sixth inning, chasing starter Tyson Ross. Wilson Ramos flied out to right field, moving Harper to third base and setting up runners on the corners with one out. That's when Ian Desmond came up........
I know Desmond is off to a miserable start. I know that I've always railed on his aggressive nature more than most Nats fans do. The guy has done a lot of great things during his tenure in D.C., but these are the at bats I always remember when I think of Ian Desmond. The Nats are trying to claw their way back into the ballgame, chipping away at the lead. He comes up in a spot with runners on the corners and one out where contact or a good plate appearance is probably going to score a run. He chased a fastball at the numbers for strike one. He chased a slider way off the plate for strike two. Then he watched strike three. Desmond went up there trying to tie the game with a six run homer rather than continue to chip away at the lead by having a good professional at bat. It's maddening.
In truth, Desmond has been hitting into some bad luck the past few games. He hit two sharp ground balls deep in the shortstop hole on Wednesday against the Diamondbacks. He took one to the track in his final at bat. That's not what you expect to hear when a guy's final line score for that game read that he went 0 for 5. Desi has seemed a bit snakebitten lately, but this poor plate appearance was all on him. From there, the Nats never really had another chance to get back into the ballgame. They scratched across a run in the eighth to finish the scoring.