VIERA, Fla. — The Nationals planned to be cautious with Doug Fister and limit the right-hander to three innings in his first start in 20 days.
Fister, though, was so effective this afternoon against the Marlins that the Nationals decided to let him go beyond their pre-planned limits.
Showing no outward ill effects of the elbow inflammation that left him sidelined for three weeks, Fister tossed 3 2/3 scoreless innings at Space Coast Stadium, racking up 47 pitches and striking out four batters during an impressive performance.
The results against an admittedly underwhelming Marlins split-squad lineup were solid — two hits, zero walks, one hit batter — but more important to Fister was the fact he emerged healthy from an outing that was more closely watched than most this time of the spring.
“It’s knocking a little bit of rust off, but everything felt pretty good,” he 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.”
Fister hadn’t taken the mound against a big-league club since his spring debut March 2, after which he noted discomfort in his elbow. An MRI showed no structural damage, only inflammation, but the Nationals shut Fister down for several days and then had him slowly work his way back.
Fister did face minor-league hitters in a game earlier this week, tossing two innings. This was a step up from that, though, and an important one.
The right-hander wasn’t perfect — he allowed two hits to leadoff man Jake Marisnick and plunked Reed Johnson in the leg with a pitch — but he threw his sinker for strikes and notched two of his four strikeouts on curveballs. He also was highly efficient, getting through the third inning on only 40 pitches.
That figured to end Fister’s afternoon, but manager Matt Williams and pitching coach Steve McCatty let him go back out there for the fourth.
“We had a little discussion that if it was a quick inning, they could possibly send me back out,” he 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.”
Fister figures to make another exhibition start, either Thursday’s Grapefruit League finale against the Mets or next Saturday’s game against the Tigers at Nationals Park, and ramp up to 60 pitches. The club then will have to decide whether that’s enough preparation for Fister to make his season-opening start on schedule, or whether he’ll need more time to build his arm up.
“I’m pleased with where I’m at, but there’s still a long way to go before the season,” he said. “So I’ve got a lot of work and a little bit of time.”
Asked, though, if he’s confident he’ll be ready for the start of the season, Fister was adamant.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “That’s not a problem.”