Washington Nationals' right-hander Doug Fister was (2-2) with a 4.31 ERA, a 4.67 FIP, 10 walks (2.27 BB/9) and 18 Ks (4.08 K/9) in 39 ⅔ innings pitched before he landed on the DL on May 15th with tightness in his right forearm which was related to a flexor tendon issue.
Fister struggled to keep the ball down in the zone and locate his pitches before the injury was diagnosed, but after a month on the disabled list, he's now made two rehab starts without any sign of an issue, so tonight he was reinstated in time to take on the Tampa Bay Rays in the fourth game of four with the current AL East division leaders.
Nats' skipper Matt Williams was asked before tonight's game what signs he'll be looking for from Fister to let him know that the 31-year-old sinker-baller is back to being the pitcher he was when he went (16-6) in 25 starts in his first season in D.C., with a 2.41 ERA, a 3.93 FIP, 24 walks (1.32 BB/9) and 98 Ks (5.38 K/9) in 164 IP.
"Nothing in particular," Williams said. "I just want him to feel good. I'm sure there will be questions for him in-between innings. 'How are you doing?' 'Feeling okay?' We know he's going to work fast, we know he's going to throw strikes. Control for him is important, so all of those being said, for me it's a health issue, making sure that he doesn't feel any tightness, and as long as that's the case then he's good to go, but we'll monitor during the game in that regard."
Fister made two rehab starts, one each with the Syracuse Chiefs and Harrisburg Senators, giving up nine hits and two runs, one earned in 9 ⅔ IP in which he struck out 10 batters. Williams said today that in spite of the quick ramp-up to his return, there will be no restrictions.
"I think he got plenty [of work] to be able to go out there without any restrictions," he explained.
"Depending on stressful innings and things like that, we'll try to take care of him as much as possible in that regard, but he's not on a pitch count per se.
"So we'll just see how the game goes. But he feels good about it, he feels healthy. He's itching to get back and get going again, so are we. So we're good to go."
With Fister back, Williams also said that, pending anything unusual in tonight's game, the rotation will line up with Joe Ross, Max Scherzer and Gio Gonzalez going in the next three games against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
In order to make room on the roster for Fister's return, the Nationals optioned right-hander Taylor Hill back to Triple-A Syracuse. Williams talked tonight about what, if anything, Hill needs to work on after another stint in the majors in the Nats' bullpen.
"[Hill's] sinker/slider, so for him it's important to get the ball down, keep the ball down and induce those ground balls that he can get when he is throwing the ball low in the strike zone," Williams said.
"He's been pressed into duty a couple of times, in mid-games that he's had to come in and pitch multiple innings, but I think he's done well, I thought he's pitched well. So for him it's just down in the strike zone, use his sinker and use his slider and changeup and he'll continue to do that."