The Washington Nationals have gone from losing tight games to winning tight games over the last several days. The Nationals won their second game in a row with the score 1-0, giving the pitchers, the bullpen, and the fielders no room for error. Not only are the Nats players stressed, but the fans have to be stressed as well.
Watching these tightrope games is not easy. My nails are all bitten off. I will have to start on the ends of my fingers next if the Nats don’t start scoring some runs and getting comfortable leads.
Doug Fister Looks Like His Old Self
I have to admit that I have been worried about Doug Fister this year. He hasn’t been pitching like the Fister Nats fans grew to love last year. He is known for getting ground ball outs, limiting fly balls, not walking batters, and fielding his position very well. He also doesn’t give up many runs and wins games.
Fister’s first start this year against the Philadelphia Phillies was vintage Fister. No earned runs, no walks, no home runs allowed. Since then, his ERA had gone up to 3.28 before today’s game over his last four starts. In his second start, he got the win and only allowed two earned runs, but walked four batters.
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The next two starts were not great. He gave up four earned runs in both starts against the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves. His pitch counts were high in both starts where he lasted six innings against the Cardinals and five and two-thirds against the Braves. He walked two batters in both games. Fister, the great fielding pitcher, committed two errors in the Braves game. He only committed one error all of last year.
In today’s start against the Mets, Fister returned to form. He pitched 6.1 innings of shut out baseball. He allowed no runs, walked nobody, and scattered six hits. He lowered his ERA to 2.61. There were a few too many fly balls in the early going, but in the end, Fister performed brilliantly on a day when the Nationals gave him a one run advantage in the bottom of the first and the team had to hang on by its fingernails the rest of the way to get the win.
I was surprised when Matt Williams removed Fister from the game in the seventh inning with one out. Actually, my reaction was to scream “What?” at the television. Fister got Daniel Murphy to fly out and then gave up a double to Kevin Plawecki. Williams immediately went to the bullpen. Given the light hitting Ruben Tejada (.167) and Dilson Herrera (.100) were next up, Williams might have hooked Fister too soon.
Matt Thornton Has A Bad Outing
Williams used Tanner Roark to get two outs in the seventh and get the Nats out of the inning after Fister was removed. It might have been better to let Fister finish the inning and let Roark have the eighth as things transpired.
At any rate, Williams went to Matt Thornton to start the eighth inning and the Nats failure to score runs almost came back to haunt them in a big way. Thornton walked pinch hitter John Mayberry, Jr. on four pitches that were not close. He induced a groundout from Curtis Granderson that moved Mayberry to second. Thornton then walked Juan Lagares to put two on. He then uncorked a wild pitch during Lucas Duda’s at bat, advancing the runners to second and third with one out in a game that the Nats were winning by a run. All it would have taken was a seeing eye single or a deep fly ball to score a run or two.
Somehow, Thornton got Duda to strike out. Williams then went to Aaron Barrett to try to get Michael Cuddyer and escape the inning without a run scoring. The Nats were still in dire straits because a single would score two runs and put the Nats behind. Barrett got Cuddyer to strike out swinging to get out of the inning. Luckily, Barrett had it today.
Clearly, Thornton did not have it today. I don’t know if he didn’t get enough warm up time because Williams had the quick hook for Fister or whether Thornton just wasn’t good today. One area of concern is that Thornton’s fastball velocity is down this year. This was the first time he was just wild. Hopefully, this was just an off day for Thornton and not a signal of further issues coming down the road.
Ian Desmond Is Out Of His Hitting Slump
With Ian Desmond, hitting is feast or famine. Prior to the Mets series, he was mired in an 0-29 hitless streak. Prior to that lack of hitting, Desmond had a ten game hitting streak going. With Ian, it’s all or nothing.
Saturday, Desmond had two hits. Yesterday, Ian went 2-3 with a walk. Both of his hits were doubles. It appears that Desmond is getting hot and about to go on one of his hitting tears that will last seven to ten games.
With Desmond hitting in the six hole, the Nationals were unable to take advantage of his doubles. He was never driven in. He has 7-8-9 hitting behind him, which requires the weaker hitters in the lineup, including the pitcher, to drive him in. With one out in the fourth, Desmond doubled and Espinosa flew out. The Mets chose to walk Lobaton to pitch to Fister to increase their chances of getting the out and stranding Desmond.
Williams may need to consider moving Desmond up in the order while he is hot, perhaps into the three hole or the five hole and moving Jayson Werth down in the order to sixth until Jayson starts hitting and gets out of spring training mode.
The Nationals Don’t Take Advantage Of Scoring Opportunities
This game should not have been a 1-0 victory. The Nationals had plenty of opportunities to score runs and blew all of them.
The Nats pushed their only run of the day across the plate in the first inning. Denard Span led off the game with a walk against Dillon Gee. Yunel Escobar grounded into a fielder’s choice and Span was out at second. Jayson Werth grounded into a fielder’s choice and Escobar was out at second. Bryce Harper singled, putting two on with two out. Ryan Zimmerman came through with a run scoring single to put the Nats on the board. This was the only opportunistic hitting the Nats would manage all day.
The Nationals were getting to Gee, which they usually don’t do. They had an opportunity in the fourth inning to get Desmond in from second with less than two outs and couldn’t advance Ian from second base.
In the fifth inning, Span led off with a double. Escobar singled and Span was on third. The Nats had runners on the corners with nobody out. All the Nats needed was a fly ball out or a single to score a run. Werth struck out looking, Harper popped out, and Zimmerman struck out swinging. No run.
In the sixth, the Nats had the same setup when Desmond walked and Danny Espinosa doubled to put two on with nobody out. Gee then walked Jose Lobaton to load the bases. This chased Gee from the game. In came Mets reliever Alex Torres, who struck out Fister, Span and Escobar to get out of the bases loaded jam.
The Nationals left twelve men on base, and went 2-for-14 with runners in scoring position. Whatever offensive explosion the Nats were having seems to have died and they are back to their frustrating, inefficient ways.