Fister on joining Nats: “There’s a lot of excitement for me”

Since July 2011, Doug Fister has been with the Detroit Tigers, a team that made the postseason in each of the last three years and made it to the World Series in 2012. He’s built friendships there and has pitched in a strong starting rotation.

The 29-year-old is now eager to have some of those same experiences in D.C.

Fister found out last night that he had been traded to the Nationals, who will now be his third organization in six major league seasons. Both he and fellow Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer had been mentioned in trade rumors recently, but it was the sinkerballing, 6-foot-8 Fister who was dealt, coming east in a trade in which the Nats sent Steve Lombardozzi, Ian Krol and Robbie Ray to Detroit.

“It’s definitely a surprise when you get the phone call that lets you know you’re being traded,” Fister said during a conference call a bit ago. “But it’s always, you’re a world of mixed emotions. There’s friendships and brotherhood and everything that I’ll be leaving, but I’m thoroughly excited to be heading to the Nationals. It’s one of those things that I’ve come to realize that I want to know a lot of guys in the league and have some experiences to play in the NL, play in the AL and be able to have those experiences and be able to have the relationships that we have. I’m looking forward to being able to get to know those guys.

“There’s a lot of excitement for me. I was able to talk to (Mike) Rizzo and I was able to talk to Matt (Williams) and I know just talking to them, there’s a lot of excitement on their end, but there’s a lot of excitement for me, knowing the teammates that I’m going to be playing with this year, knowing the coaches and everyone that’s involved in not only that, but the ballpark, the fans, everybody that’s involved.

“It’s a big league ballclub that is right on the right track to being in the postseason. I see it, I’m excited to be a part of it, and hopefully that’s exactly where we take it this year.”

Fister is leaving a starting staff that features two Cy Young Award winners and a couple of other talented hurlers, but he’s joining a rotation that many might now consider the top staff in the majors. It’s unclear where exactly Fister will slot in the Nats rotation (my guess is he’ll be the No. 4 guy come the start of the season, if everyone is healthy), but he’ll have a wealth of talent around him.

“Coming from Detroit, obviously we had a great staff,” Fister said. “It was such an honor to be a part of the staff that we had there with Scherzer and (Justin) Verlander and everybody else, but coming in to D.C. now, it’s going to be the same thing with (Stephen) Strasburg and (Jordan) Zimmermann and (Gio) Gonzalez and (Ross) Detwiler. All those guys, I’m looking forward to being in there. They’ve all got quite a bit of experience, they’ve all got great stuff and I’ve heard that they’re great teammates. It’s one of those things that I’m definitely looking forward to being a part of and being able to be surrounded by such terrific pitchers.”

Fister’s bread and butter is his sinker, a pitch that allowed him to post a 54.6 percent groundball rate in 2013, the fourth-best mark among qualifying major league starters. He keeps the ball in the ballpark and on the ground, and says that’s not an accident.

“It’s definitely a bullet point in my pitching perspective,” Fister said. “I’m going out there trying to induce ground balls, induce bad contact as early in the count as possible. My job is to get through seven innings and keep zeroes on the board for our offense to get out there and swing it. If I can get that done, that’s my main focus. If I can get past that, that’s icing on the cake and I’m excited about it.”

As has been mentioned multiple times since this deal was consummated last night, Fister’s advanced numbers say that he’s one of the top 10 or 15 pitchers in the majors, but he doesn’t seem to get the type of national attention befitting a guy in that class. Fister was asked if he knows why that’s the case.

“I’m not real positive on that,” he said. “It’s a matter of I like to get out there, I like to pitch and leave all the assumptions and any sort of expectations to everybody else. I like to leave those kind of things alone and let somebody else take those by the reins.”

After stints with the Tigers and Mariners, Fister will now be getting his first real taste of the National League. He’ll need to study scouting reports of a new crop of hitters and get acclimated to a bit of a new style of baseball, but he says changing leagues won’t affect him or his mindset much.

“When I’m up on the mound, I’m going to do the same thing and try to get hitters out,” Fister said. “I know that, obviously, things are a little different having to face pitchers and having to hit ourselves. I’m excited to be able to grab a bat again and work on my swing. I don’t think that that’s going to change anything of my pitching style. I’m still going out there trying to pitch to our defense.

“Look at the defense that will be playing out there day after day after day. I think we’ve got a couple Gold Glovers and a runner-up. Again, it’s something for me, I’m coming in looking at it as, I’m blessed. I’m blessed to have a team that is on the rise and right where it needs to be.”

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