There’s no shame in the way the Nationals lost to the Dodgers yesterday. Former Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, who is beginning to round into form after some early season struggles, had everything working. He kept the Nats guessing at the plate, racking up 14 strikeouts over seven innings and accumulating 30 swings-and-misses. Sometimes you run into a buzzsaw, and on Saturday, Kershaw was just that.
This means that for the Nats, the concerning thing isn’t their offense; it’s who they sent out to the mound opposite Kershaw.
Doug Fister, who may have been the Nationals best pitcher statistically in 2014, looks like a completely different person this season. The struggles that began in spring training have lingered on into the season and have refused to go away. His ERA has continued to stay over the 4.00 mark since mid-May just before he landed on the disabled list.
Any hope that his return to health would also allow a return to last year’s form has quickly been squashed. He’s allowed four or more earned runs in three of his five starts since returning. Only once has he managed to pitch more than six innings.
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Saturday was more of the same. Fister allowed four runs on nine hits and two walks over five innings, and the fact is that it could have been much worse than that if he hadn’t managed to work himself out of a few jams. He left too many pitches out over the plate, and the Dodgers consistently punished him for it. By the time he had finished the fifth, he’d thrown 91 pitches, leaving Matt Williams no choice but to go to his bullpen.
At the moment, Fister may be the odd man out in the Nationals rotation. While his numbers aren’t as bad as Strasburg, who’s spent most of the season battling injury, Fister is much more likely to be given the short end of the stick when it comes to the playoff rotation. It’s hard to imagine keeping Strasburg out of the playoffs given what the team has invested in him.
If that’s the case, Doug Fister may find himself off of the postseason roster altogether. The team already has Tanner Roark there for long relief, and adding Fister to that mix would seem more like a wasted roster spot than anything. He provides little utility in a bullpen role, and that spot could be used more efficiently elsewhere.
Obviously, the Nationals hope that Doug Fister will find his 2014 form, and quickly, but the long his struggles continue into the season, as Saturday’s start showed, the less likely that is.