VIERA, Fla. - As spring training progresses, we'll slowly be able to learn more and more about the new players that are in Nationals camp.
Doug Fister looked sharp and shown impressive command down in the zone during his three bullpen sessions coming into today. And with hitters stepping into the batter's box against Fister for live batting practice for the first time, we got a little more information on how Fister likes to approach spring and what he brings to the table.
For example, Anthony Rendon, who was one of the hitters to stand in against Fister today, tracked a Fister changeup at one point during the session. He then swung and rolled over on Fister's next pitch, and turned back at catcher Wilson Ramos to ask if it was another changeup. Turns out, it was the Fister sinker, his bread-and-butter pitch which somewhat resembles the change.
"He was throwing it from the sky and it's running at your ankles," Rendon said, chuckling. "He was good. He's phenomenal. He's tall and lanky, but he's fluid with it. He knows what he's doing. He's just so composed out there and the ball just (dives) the last five-to-eight feet."
Rendon did homer off Fister, but he said that he just got his hands out and barreled-up a ball that then rode the wind over the fence.
"It's not like I hit it over the lake or anything," Rendon said. "It would've been an out in probably 90 percent of stadiums."
Ian Desmond also ripped a ball to the gap off Fister and catcher Jeff Howell hit a ball hard to right-center, but other than that, Fister avoided solid contact his entire session.
Ramos enjoyed his time behind the plate catching Fister, who he'll be tasked with trying to build a rapport with as camp progresses. The Nats' starting catcher has already gotten a good feel for Fister's sinker, however, and raves about its movement and effectiveness.
"It's easy to catch, but it's hard to hit," said Ramos, causing some laughter from reporters. "He looked good. I like he how likes to throw. He was pitching really low, especially the sinker. It moved like a changeup, but with more speed. But it breaks the same. It feels great with him. I need to know how he likes to throw. Same with last year. I need to know (Dan) Haren and (Rafael) Soriano. This year, I want to do the same with him.
"Not too many guys throw like that. He's very different. His sinker moves a lot. Stephen (Strasburg), other guys who throw sinkers, they don't move too much. He didn't throw too many hard, but his pitch is moving a lot."
Fister was glad to move past the standard bullpen sessions and face some hitters, even if many of them were just tracking pitches, letting them go by and getting a feel for their timing.
"I think it's good," Fister said. "You're able to get a hitter in the box. They're able to see some live pitching. If they want to track, they can track. If they feel like they want to take a couple swings, they can swing. I think it's good all around.
"I don't look at the result of what a hitter does to it. I look at the effectiveness of the pitch. And I know if it's a good pitch or not. If it's down in the zone and I've got good action, I can deal with that. It's not something like, 'Oh, man, I got him to swing and miss on a changeup.' It's the first day. I know that I felt good with it. I didn't yank it. I got some depth and velocity change. I was happy with it. I don't look at results."
Despite the fact that Fister was hit in the side of the head by a line drive while pitching for the Tigers in Game 2 of the 2012 World Series, the veteran right-hander opted not to use the standard protective L-screen that is usually wheeled in front of the mound during live BP sessions in order to protect the pitchers from comebackers.
"I'm not real comfortable with the screen in front of me, just because there's something in between me and the hitter," Fister said. "I feel like I have more of a chance of getting hit worse if I have a screen, because of a deflection off the crossbar or something else. I feel like it alters my throwing motion at times, too. So it's one of those things I'd rather get up, go regular and have no screen."
Because Fister didn't want to use the L-screen, manager Matt Williams said that the Nats didn't allow their catchers to give the hitters standing in against Fister an idea of what pitch was coming before he threw it. Hitters sometimes get the pitch type before each pitch just so they can better protect themselves against being hit.
"He just threw everything for strikes," Williams said of Fister. "Continues to do that. Worked pretty fast. Got a lot of pitches in today. He likes that. He's been saying he likes to feel tired and work through the tiredness. So it was a good session for him today, too."