Nationals right-hander Doug Fister won his fourth consecutive start Thursday in a 4-2 victory over the Phillies. It is the first time a Nationals pitcher has won four straight decisions since Jordan Zimmermann accomplished the feat in September 2013.
Fister allowed only four hits for a second straight start. Fister has issued only two walks in six starts this season.
But the media really wanted to ask him about how he was able to do a full splits on one ground ball at first base early in the game, reaching out with full extension to try to get the runner on a double play attempt. Later, he made another nice grab and throw on a Ben Revere shot back to the mound, displaying his flexibility.
"It kind of reverts back to playing first base in college," Fister said of his time at Fresno State. "Again, it's part of being a pitcher. You got to get over there and cover. It is just something that comes natural to me to get out there and stretch."
So how did he do it?
"Flexibility, I guess. A matter of staying within yourself," Fister said.
"I asked him if he was all right," said first baseman Adam LaRoche. "I thought he blew out. He hopped up, 'No, I'm good,' like nothing happened. I couldn't do it."
On the second play, it was a comebacker that he had to make a quick reaction to grab.
"I try to do a lot of work with ground balls up the middle," Fister said. "Trying to work on reaction time and being able to fielding my position. That is something I take a lot of pride in."
Fister said it took practice to improve his reaction time on grounders right back at him. He simulated those moments in batting practice and pitcher's practice.
"It's really just a matter of going up there and getting ground balls," Fister explained. "Having someone fungo balls right at you. Being able to know that if it is in your reach, you got to make a stab at it."
Fister said the key Thursday was pretty simple: Stick to the game plan and hit your spots.
"It is just a matter of executing, same thing as always," Fister said. "Main focus is staying down in the zone and being able to move in and out. There were a lot of balls that were hit hard but guys made great plays on them. Playing as a team and playing well, that is what we do here, and that is exactly what we are trying to do."
Fister did employ the curveball at certain times to help him record outs. Was the curveball a big part of the pregame strategy?
"Not particularly," Fister said. "It just worked out in certain counts and certain situations that we were able to continue with that pitch. Loby (Jose Lobaton) and I were on the same page today, as we have been all year, and it has been a great thing to be able to communicate with him."
LaRoche, who crushed a two-run homer for the eventual margin of victory, said it was nice to have a run at home where the offense helped the pitching secure wins. The Nationals ended the homestand winners of five of their last six games with series wins over the Rangers and Phillies.
"Big boost offensively, great homestand," LaRoche said. "It's nice to take the a little pressure off of our starters and make it so they don't have to be perfect. We hit a little bit and we afford them to be able to make a mistake and not be a game changer. I know it has helped them out a lot as far as settling in and making pitches and not have to worry about every single run. This was big. Put a bunch of hits together and score a bunch of runs. That is what we need to do
LaRoche's key at-bat arrived in the fifth with a man on against Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick. He slammed a two-run shot into the right field bullpen, his eighth homer of the season.
"He has thrown me a combination in the past that I never really get a beat on," LaRoche said. "He mixed it up really well, just happened to throw one inside. I don't know if it was off the plate. Felt like it was in quite a bit, got the barrel to it. I saw a 3-0 curveball from him today. I've seen 1-2 heaters down the middle. So he knows how to pitch. I just got lucky there."
Fister was happy to be a part of a series sweep of the Phillies and send the team off to San Diego, San Francisco and St. Louis.
"I know these guys are tired, they have been playing their butts off," Fister said. "We got a long flight ahead of us. These guys are playing well. It is great to be a part of the team we have here.
"We are going to have to grind it out. We are going in facing three good teams and it's a matter of we got to go in there and execute and play our game. We got to stay with our strengths. This is what we train for. This is how we want to play the game."
Added LaRoche: "You got to start somewhere. We can build off this. I think you're seeing more and more guys comfortable and confident at the plate. We are taking walks and driving runs in. Again, it is hard if you give yourself one or two opportunities a game to score. But if you can get five or six opportunities, guys in scoring position, you are going to have some games like we have had lately where we are able to put up a bunch of runs."