Early in a humid game in Baltimore, it looked like Nationals starting pitching Doug Fister might not have his best stuff. Staked to a 2-0 lead, Fister took the mound for the bottom of the first and delivered a bumpy performance. Perhaps squeezed by a tight strike zone, Fister walked two of the first four batters he faced. A Chris Davis single brought in a run, and with runners on the corners, Fister induced a fly ball from J.J. Hardy to escape the inning.
From there, Fister found his slot.
"There were some pitches that were close," Fister said of the first inning. "After that it was a matter of I'm going to attack the zone and just make them hit it. They might put the ball in play, put it in play hard, but that’s why I've got a defense."
Besides serving up a solo home run to Manny Machado in the fourth inning -- a sizzling hot Machado -- Fister did exactly as he predicted. Keeping the ball down with his usual sink, the Nats starter induced a series of ground balls to a stout Washington defense that had the added advantage of Anthony Rendon at third base and Danny Espinosa at second. Playing in the Orioles American League ballpark, Nats skipper Matt Williams could keep Ryan Zimmerman's bat in the lineup in the DH spot, and beef up his defense behind the groundball pitching Fister.
"He had some pitches early that were really close," Williams said after the win. "It’s a question of adjusting to the strike zone, too. But I thought he pitched really well.”
Fister's final line looked solid, 7 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER with two walks and two strikeouts, but he owed plenty of thanks to the defense behind him, especially Rendon at third. Multiple times Rendon made diving stabs down the line, sacrificing his body for outs.
"He's going to sell out for you, that says a lot about him," Fister said of Rendon. "But it also says a lot about the team."
In the bottom of the sixth inning with the Nats leading 5-2, Fister found himself in a bit of a jam. After he gave up a single to Davis, and a wild pitch let Davis advance to second base, another Machado hit gave the Orioles the chance to tie the game. With runners on first and second, Caleb Joseph hit a sharp liner to Rendon, who was able to stop the ball, fire to second, and the Nats recorded the double play to get out of the inning. Ground ball outs, and the double plays that come with them, are part of the fun of having Fister on the mound.
"You don't ever feel like you're out of the game when he's out there. I think there's something about how he works," Nats right fielder Jayson Werth said of Fister. "He works quick. He throws strikes. He keeps you on your toes."
Unlike some pitchers, Fister seems content to count on his defense. Werth appreciates it.
"It's a pleasure to play D behind him and watch him work."