Sports

Nationals’ Off-Season Moves a Gift to D.C. Sports Fans

by David Elfin
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Doug Fister. (Credit: Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Doug Fister. (Credit: Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

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It was not a glorious autumn in Washington.

The Nationals failed to reach their stated goal of the World Series, failing to even make the playoffs. The Redskins tanked from surprising success to soap opera. The Wizards rose from horrible but only to mediocre. The Capitals are off to a better start but are still light years behind the Penguins.

Maryland plays in a bowl game Friday for the first time in three years, but only because there are way too many bowls. Navy plays Monday in another of the many nobody cares except the participants bowls. Virginia Tech plays Tuesday in the Sun Bowl, which at least can claim to be a traditional affair. Howard managed a .500 season which is a heck of a lot better than Virginia can claim.

None of the area’s men’s hoops teams are ranked, with big dogs Maryland and Georgetown already having suffered upsets and close shaves against lesser lights. Only George Washington is playing well.

What’s a D.C. sports fan to celebrate this holiday season? Well, Nats general manager Mike Rizzo provided some fine presents for 2014 while relinquishing little of immediate value in return.

Jerry Blevins, acquired from Oakland for outfielder Billy Burns, the top performer in Washington’s farm system in 2013, should be the reliable left handed reliever that the bullpen lacked last year after Sean Burnett and Michael Gonzalez weren’t re-signed. A six-year veteran, the 30-year-old Blevins should nicely complement the hard-throwing right-handed trio of Rafael Soriano, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen.

The 6-foot-6 Blevins had a 3.15 earned run average for the A’s last year while striking out 52 batters in 60 innings. Blevins, who pitched at the University of Dayton with Nats long reliever Craig Stammen, has had success against both left-handed and right-handed hitters and isn’t eligible for free agency until 2016.

The day after adding Blevins, Washington signed former Baltimore Oriole Nate McLouth, who could be the solid fourth outfielder that the Nats lacked last season when left fielder Bryce Harper and right fielder Jayson Werth both missed significant time with injuries.

McLouth, 32, has a career .250 batting average with 100 home runs and 326 RBI. He led the National League with 46 doubles for Pittsburgh in 2008, the same year he was an All-Star and won a Gold Glove. McLouth, who’s signed through 2015, is no longer an every-day player, but his .258 average was better than anyone on Washington’s bench other than departed utility man Steve Lombardozzi.

Blevins and McLouth are solid additions, but right-hander Doug Fister was definitely the piece de resistance of Rizzo’s December haul. Popular Columbia native Lombardozzi, unproven reliever Ian Krol, and left-handed prospect Robbie Ray were all that Washington gave Detroit in exchange for Fister, who posted a 2.98 ERA in eight postseason appearances (seven starts) for the Tigers the past three years.

The 6-foot-8 sinkerball specialist was 14-9 with a 3.67 ERA as Detroit’s third starter in 2013 behind Cy Young winners Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander. Fister tied for the American League lead in producing double plays while allowing just 0.6 homers per nine innings, which ranked second.

Fister joins All-Stars Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg to give new Nats manager Matt Williams as good a four-man rotation as there is. If Ross Detwiler can bounce back from his injury-plagued 2013 season to match his fine 2012 performance, it could be an embarrassment of riches on the mound for Washington with Fister, who turns 30 in February, the old man of the quintet.

“Coming from Detroit … it was such an honor to be a part of the staff that we had there, but coming to D.C., it’s going to be the same thing with Strasburg and Zimmermann and Gonzalez and Detwiler,” said Fister, who’s not eligible for free agency until 2016. “They’ve all got quite a bit of experience, they’ve all got great stuff and I’ve heard that they’re great teammates. I’m definitely looking forward to … being able to be surrounded by such terrific pitchers.”

When the Nats won the NL East title and led the majors with a 98-64 record in 2012, Detwiler and veteran fifth starter Edwin Jackson went 20-19 with a 3.73 ERA while making 58 starts. Last year as the Nats slid to 86-76 and didn’t reach postseason, Detwiler and veteran Dan Haren, who replaced Jackson and has since signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers, went 12-21 with a 4.48 ERA while making 43 starts.

Fister, who has a 3.53 ERA in five years with Seattle and Detroit while averaging 30 starts during his four full seasons, should more than make up for that drop in production that the back end of Washington’s rotation suffered in 2013.

“I’m going out there trying to induce ground balls, induce bad contact as early in the count as possible,” Fister said. “I want to use our defense, utilize the talent that we have out there. I’d be foolish not to attack that way. My job is to get through seven innings and keep zeroes on the board for our offense to get out there and swing it. If I can get past that, that’s icing on the cake.”

Actually, Doug, in an otherwise bleak-to-meh time in Washington sports, you are the cake.

 
 

David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011.

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