The Nationals wanted to end a season-high four-game losing streak, and needed a good game from right-hander Doug Fister in order to accomplish that goal.
But that doesn't make Fister the team's stopper. He said as much after working 5 1/3 innings of one-run ball as the Nats salvaged the final game of a four-game series in Pittsburgh with a 5-2 win over the Pirates on Sunday afternoon.
"That's the mentality we come in every day with," said Fister, who allowed six hits, walked none and fanned four to improve to 2-1. "We don't come into the park without the mentality that we're going to win it today, whatever it takes. ... It's a quality day for us and we get some momentum going into the homestand."
Humility aside, Fister did just what the Nationals needed him to do today: Get groundball outs by using his bread-and-butter sinker to make the Pirates beat the ball into the ground. He got seven groundouts to two flyouts in the 22 batters he faced.
Fister brushed aside a suggestion that he benefitted from being a career American Leaguer before this season who was seeing some National League opponents for the first time.
"It's a matter of going out there and executing," he said. "At this point, everybody's got enough scouting reports and knowledge beforehand that it's a matter of whoever gets the job done."
In other words, when you're doing your job, other people will follow your lead.
"What it comes down to is executing and getting ground balls and I think we did that well today," Fister said. "We played a lot of defense. Guys were running balls down and we turned a couple double plays, so that was huge. That's the kind of defense we want there every day and that's what we're getting."
When he left in the sixth, Fister had runners on first and second with one out. He'd thrown only 83 pitches, but manager Matt Williams could sense the tide might be turning and called for another sinkerballer, righty Craig Stammen, to bail Fister out.
Stammen threw one pitch to pinch-hitter Jose Tabata, who promptly grounded into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play. Williams said he went to Stammen because Tyler Clippard had been experiencing "some tightness" and he wanted to stay away from him. Stammen wound up working two innings as a bridge to Aaron Barrett and, eventually, Rafael Soriano, who notched his 11th save.
Fister didn't feel like he was tiring, explaining that he always seems to battle himself a little during starts.
"It's always a battle for me, no matter if I've had numerous starts in a row that have been good or not. ... If it's a good pitch, I need to repeat it. If it's a bad one, I need to make an adjustment," he said.
He just sounded glad to have been able to contribute to a game that ended a losing streak.
"A slump's only as much as you think it is," Fister said. "That's something that mentally you have to beat. Today it's a new day. You have to have a short-term memory in this game and today was anew day and everybody came out firing, whether it was playing defense or it was hitting, on the mound, whatever. We've had some close one-run ballgames that haven't gone our way, unfortunately. But guys are playing well, playing together and that's the sign of a true ballclub."