VIERA, Fla. - As if it wasn't clear that Doug Fister felt just fine physically when he came out to start the fourth inning today, after the initial plan had him working just three frames, Fister confirmed following his outing that he didn't have any abnormal post-start discomfort.
The right-hander hadn't appeared in a Grapefruit League game in 20 days due to inflammation in his right elbow, but he worked 3 2/3 strong, scoreless innings today, throwing 47 pitches, allowing just two hits and striking out four against a split-squad Marlins lineup. The Nationals won today's game 6-5.
"It's knocking a little bit of rust off, but everything felt pretty good," Fister said. "It's relieving to go out there and feel good. All the work we've been putting in, the trainers and pitching coaches and everybody, it's been paying off. I'm on the right track."
The Nats had planned to have Fister go three innings or around 45 pitches today, but when the righty finished the third inning at just 40 pitches, they made a collective decision to have him start the fourth. Fister got a groundout and a strikeout, adding seven more pitches to his tally, and then manager Matt Williams came out to get him.
"We had a little discussion that if it was a quick inning, they could possibly send me back out," Fister said. "Even if it was one hitter, two hitters, whatever it came to be. We had a set number we were going to stick with and that's kind of what we did. ...
"I'm pleased with where I'm at, but there's still a long way to go before the season. So I've got a lot of work and a little bit of time."
Fister's off-speed stuff appeared pretty sharp today, which is obviously a good sign given his limited workload this spring. His sinker was down in the zone much of the time, and he got four groundball outs, including a 6-4-3 double play in the second inning.
"I would say that he's right on schedule," Williams said. "Talked to him immediately after the game. He said he felt good. No issues. So next time out, we'll try to get him to 60 (pitches), maybe just a tick above. I thought it was good. Threw some breaking balls behind in the count, 3-2. Shows me he's got some confidence in it right now, even though it's been on a limited basis. It's good.
"He works fast. Guys in the infield were commenting how nice it is to play behind him. They expect the ball to be hit. Works fast, throws strikes. All those things are good."
The question now is when the Nationals will slot Fister into their rotation to start the regular season. He's scheduled to start again five days from now in Port St. Lucie against the Mets. If the Nats then wanted to, they could have Fister stay here in Viera and start a minor league game on normal rest on April 1 (Williams did say that a minor league game is possible for Fister), allowing him to further build up arm strength and get in innings.
Fister could then start a regular season game April 6 at home against the Braves, which is the first time the Nats need a fifth starter because of an early off-day that would allow Stephen Strasburg to make a second regular season start on normal rest on April 5.
In essence, Fister would become the Nats' fifth starter, with either Tanner Roark or Taylor Jordan (whoever wins the battle for the Nats' final rotation spot) possibly starting the home opener April 4.
Got all that?
I might have spent too much time thinking about a possible pitching order which never comes to be, but oh, well. The main point is that Fister isn't feeling discomfort in the elbow and is confident that he'll be ready for his first regular season start.
"Oh, yeah," he said. "That's not a problem."