The Nationals' starting rotation hasn't been nearly as good collectively as many predicted it would be this year, and part of the reason has been the disappointing season of Doug Fister.
The Nats' starting staff was one of the best in baseball in 2014 and Fister was their most consistent guy. He went 16-6 with a 2.41 ERA in what was the best year of his career. He finished eighth in NL Cy Young voting and beat now-playoff legend Madison Bumgarner in Game 3 of the NLDS.
Whether it be injuries or something else, 2015 just hasn't been the same for the 6-foot-8 right-hander. Fister got rocked again on Thursday night in the Nationals' 7-3 loss the Pirates, allowing four earned runs on nine hits and a walk in just five innings of work. It was the eighth time in his 13 starts this season that Fister has allowed seven hits or more.
Fister has now surrendered four earned runs or more in seven of his last 11 outings. For a comparison, he did that just four times in 25 starts in 2014. His ERA after Thursday is 4.50, nearly double his mark from last year. He hasn't finished a season with an ERA above 4.00 since 2010.
Fister missed a month of this season with forearm tightness and returned from the DL on June 18 against the Tampa Bay Rays. In his five starts since coming back, he has allowed 18 earned runs in 29 1/3 innings (4.72 ERA).
Fister's fastball velocity has in some outings been down from what it was last year, but his problems seem to run much deeper. Whatever is holding him back is a mystery the Nats would like to solve and soon.
Roark struggles again
Tanner Roark relieved Fister in the sixth inning on Thursday and had yet another poor outing in a long string of them. Roark allowed two runs through two innings - including a two-run homer to Andrew McCutchen - to put the game out of reach.
Roark has now allowed earned runs in five straight relief appearances. He has a 5.10 ERA on the season and has surrendered homers in three of his last four outings.
Up until about two months ago, nothing seemed to faze Roark. He was brought to the majors in 2013 to pitch out of the bullpen and he was excellent. He was converted to a starter and was brilliant for all of 2014. Then he returned to the bullpen for the 2015 season and, at first, thrived.
Whatever the reason, Roark is finally starting to show cracks for the first time in his career, and it certainly isn't helping a Nats bullpen that has already been through its fair share of issues this season.
Desmond continues to heat up
Ian Desmond went 2-for-4 and hit is 100th career home run in a losing effort on Thursday night, a small positive in an otherwise ugly series opener for the Nationals. Desmond is now 7-for-13 with two home runs, 4 RBI and two walks in his last four games. He now has more hits in his last four games than he did in his previous 16.
At several points during this season Desmond has appeared to break out of his months-long slump, so whether he is finally in the clear or not is hard to tell. However, the fact it coincides with a pep talk from Cal Ripken, Jr. has made for a pretty good story.