The Nationals have shifted veteran righty Doug Fister to the bullpen, manager Matt Williams told reporters after today’s game, Dan Kolko of MASNsports.com among them (on Twitter). Impressive rookie Joe Ross will take his regular spot in the rotation.
The move is surprising to see, in some respects, but makes sense as the evidence on both pitchers has continued to accumulate. Fister has dealt with injuries, lost velocity, and a continued decline in his ability to generate strikeouts.
All told, he owns a 4.60 ERA over 86 innings, with 5.0 K/9 against 1.9 BB/9 with an uncharacteristically low 42.0% groundball rate. Those are his worst results as a big leaguer, and ERA estimators suggest that his earned run average reflects his performance this season.
On the other side of the ledger, Ross — who came over with Trea Turner in the deal that sent Steven Souza to the Rays and Wil Myers to the Padres — has been excellent since making the jump to the big leagues. After today’s strong outing, he sits at a 2.80 earned run mark over 45 frames, with an outstanding 47:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Ross now seems to have the inside track on a rotation spot for next year’s club.
Beyond the impact on the postseason race, Fister’s demotion carries important implications for his upcoming free agent case. For one thing, the 31-year-old no longer seems at all likely to receive a qualifying offer from the Nationals. Not unlike Justin Masterson last year, Fister entered the season primed to be an important second-tier arm on next year’s market, but now looks like a candidate for a short-term deal with a club that is willing to take a gamble on a return to form.