Pregame notes on Fister, Hairston, and emergency catcher and pitcher options

VIERA, Fla. - You already know that Doug Fister will be making his first spring start in 20 days today.

You don’t know what Matt Williams will specifically be watching for today when it comes to Fister, who is working back from inflammation in his right elbow.

But that’s what I’m here for - to pass along such information.

Williams says he mainly cares about how Fister feels during and after his start today. He won’t mind too much if Fister’s command is off or if he doesn’t have great feel for his breaking stuff against the Marlins this afternoon. He’s more focused on his right-hander getting in his innings and his arm holding up.

“I want him to be healthy and I want him to feel good,” Williams said. “Results are not important right now for him, just that he makes it to that pitch count and we can feel good going into tomorrow with him, too.”

But will Fister’s results be important in any of his starts leading up to his regular season debut? Would Williams need to see the on-field aspects in place before declaring Fister fit for a meaningful start, or would the 30-year-old’s track record make his manager comfortable that he’s ready as long as he’s healthy?

“I would be comfortable if he feels OK,” Williams said. “Again, we have to get him to a point where he feels good and where he can stretch it out and there’s no issues. Again, when that workload increases, there’s more risk, certainly. ... (But) if he reacts well, then he’s been down this road. He’s a big league pitcher, so I would feel comfortable, yeah.”

Meanwhile, Williams made a comment yesterday in regard to Scott Hairston’s slow start, saying that the Nats are trying to get him a lot of at-bats this spring so that he’ll be ready “if he’s going to be on our club.”

Williams was asked today whether he meant that Hairston’s roster spot isn’t secure, as was thought to be by reporters, or if the comment was misinterpreted.

“He’s certainly competing for a spot like everybody else. We have to approach it that way. All of us do, including Scott, and including everybody else that is vying for a spot,” Williams said. “... That’s what I meant. It wasn’t to say that I’m thinking about not having him on the team. I want to get him at-bats and make sure that he feels good and that his timing is there and all that.”

Hairston is making $2.5 million this season, and while he hit just .224/.246/.379 in 33 games with the Nats last season and hasn’t done much statistically this spring, he has crushed left-handed pitchers in the past and his contract is guaranteed. The Nationals feel he’ll return to form and be a factor off the bench this season, and if he struggles in games that actually matter, the team can deal with it then.

Finally, I asked a random question of Williams today, but one that I think offers kind of a cool behind-the-scenes look into how major league teams operate. All teams have emergency catchers - a position player who can step in and catch in a pinch in case of an injury or a moment of need - and with Steve Lombardozzi now gone, I wasn’t sure who would fill that role on this year’s team.

The Nats have two big-name position players who used to be catchers in Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth, and Williams said that both guys came forward and offered to strap on the pads if the Nats ever needed them to. Once a catcher, always a catcher, I guess.

But there’s no chance the Nats would ever risk injury to one of those two by putting them back behind the plate. Just no chance.

“I’ve told them that that will not be happening,” Williams said with a laugh.

So who would have a chance? Williams said that two other guys volunteered to serve as the emergency catcher - Danny Espinosa and Tyler Moore.

“We have candidates,” Williams said. “We hope that something like that will never be needed, because you’ve got an injury, something’s gone bad in a game and you’re down to your emergency catcher. You don’t want to get in that spot. But those guys have stepped up and said they’d do it.”

Now, on the topic of an emergency pitcher, Williams’ predecessor, Davey Johnson, said he would never ask a position player to work an inning or two if a game goes incredibly long or is a blowout, because he didn’t want to put the player in a spot where he could be embarrassed. Williams, on the other hand, said there are circumstances where having a position player pitch an inning could be beneficial to the club (like if the bullpen needed to be saved), and he would consider it.

Adam LaRoche, who could have been drafted as a pitcher and used to throw in the 90s, used to plead with Johnson to let him appear in a game as a pitcher.

“He wants to be that guy,” Williams said of LaRoche. “We’ll see. Hopefully, we never get to that spot, either.”

Other possible candidates: Espinosa or Jamey Carroll, who actually threw a scoreless inning for the Twins last year, retiring all three batters he faced.

Yeah, major league teams plan for everything.

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