The rotation could not have set up any more perfectly for the Nationals than it did on Friday night. After uncharacteristic performances by both Gio Gonzalez and the Nats bullpen, who combined to allow ten runs to the Phillies in the series opener, the Nats needed someone to stem the offensive flow.
Enter Doug Fister. The Nationals’ 6’8″ right hander entered the game with a 2.69 ERA for the season, and a career 2-0 record with an ERA of 1.20 against the Phillies. If there was anyone who could right the ship, it was Fister.
Fister’s counterpart would be Roberto Hernandez, who stifled the Nats’ bats earlier in the season on May 4, when he allowed no runs on four hits in 7.1 innings on the way to a 1-0 Phillies win. So, while Friday night’s matchup may not have carried the same level of intrigue as Thursday night’s pairing of Gonzalez and Lee, it still possessed the potential to be a low-scoring game.
Early on, it appeared Fister might fall victim to the same stroke of ill luck that swallowed up Gio the night before. After retiring the first five hitters, a misplayed ball on the warning track by Bryce Harper put Grady Sizemore on second. Fister then seemed to lose all command of his pitches. He issued a walk to Carlos Ruiz before grooving a pitch right down the middle to Cody Asche, whose single made it 1-0 Philadelphia.
Fister settled down from there. His only other mistake through five more innings of work was to Marlon Byrd, who sent a solo shot into the right field stands in the top of the sixth. Over his seven total innings, the Nats starter surrendered two earned runs on six hits. He walked two and struck out five. It was an excellent performance, but one that still ended in a loss.
For that, Fister can thank Hernandez, Jonathan Papelbon, and the meager Nats offense. Hernandez threw eight strong innings, scattering five hits. The only scoring the Nationals managed to scrounge up came in the second. Adam LaRoche managed what Bob Carpenter aptly labeled a “little league triple,” an infield fly that managed to fall in for a hit, combined with a two-base throwing error. Ian Desmond promptly brought LaRoche in with a single.
From there, it was all downhill for the team from the District. Papelbon came in to pitch the ninth. With one out, LaRoche and Desmond managed singles, but the Phillies closer quickly quelled the would-be rally with back-to-back strikeouts to Bryce Harper and the newest National, Asdrubal Cabrera.
Cabrera’s debut hardly turned out the way he (and the Nationals fan base) would have wanted. He finished the night hitless in four plate appearances, including the game-ending strikeout. In his first at-bat, Cabrera made solid contact, but the ball flew straight into the glove of Ryan Howard, resulting in a double play.
The night’s silver lining was the defense. Jayson Werth made a perfect throw to the plate in the 5th inning to get Cody Asche and save a run. Cabrera added a contribution of his own in the third. Scrambling to his left, the new second baseman made a sliding stop just on the edge of the outfield grass, then popped up to make a perfect toss to first.
Tomorrow night, the Nationals will try to salvage the chance at a series split in the third game of the four game series. Jordan Zimmermann (6-5) will get the start against A.J. Burnett (6-10) for the 7:05 pm game.