VIERA, Fla. -- There's a long way to go, Doug Fister noted, and a short time to get there. But after his second start of the spring for the Washington Nationals on Saturday, Fister showed the distance between now and being ready may not really be all that far off.
Fister, acquired in an offseason trade with the Detroit Tigers, has been dealing with inflammation in his pitching elbow and hadn't started an exhibition game since March 2. He's well behind his fellow starters in pitch count now but being ready to take his first turn in the rotation doesn't seem terribly far-fetched anymore.
Fister threw 3 2/3 innings in an exhibtion game against the Marlins on Saturday. He looked awfully sharp, throwing 32 strikes in 47 pitches. He allowed two hits, struck out three and walked no one.
The Nats went on to win 6-5 with the winning run coming in the last of the ninth on Danny Espinosa's second home run of the day.
But the story was Fister. In short, he looked exactly like the pitcher the Nats thought they were getting when they sent Steve Lombardozzi, Ian Krol and Robbie Ray to the Tigers to get him.
"It's knocking a little rust off. Everything felt very good. All the work we've been putting in, the trainers and pitching coach and everybody, it's paying off," Fister said.
"Each [turn] is a step in the right direction. That's a progression we've taken. We can't get ahead of ourselves. We just have to wait another five days and get ready for another one."
Washington opens its season next Monday in New York. As the Nationals' fourth starter, Fister's first regular turn would come on on April 4, when the team faces the Atlanta Braves in its home opener.
But with an off day during the first series in New York, the Nats could easily work around that and have Fister step into the rotation the second time through.
That may not be necessary, provided Fister continues to progress without complications. He said Saturday he's confident he'll be ready.
"Oh yeah," he said. "It's not a problem.
"Right now it is just about feeling right and getting arm strength back."
Nats manager Matt Williams said the team was still sorting through the possibilities of when Fister may be able to make his regular-season debut. The plan for his next outing is to get him into the 60-pitch range.
Williams liked what he saw on Saturday.
"He's right on schedule," Williams said. "I talked to him immediately after the game and he said he felt good, no issues. He threw some breaking balls behind in the count 3-2. That shows me he's got confidence in it right now.
"He works fast. The guys in the infield were commenting on how nice it is to play behind him. They expect the ball to be hit, he works fast, he throws strikes. All those things are good."
Williams reiterated that there's no rush to map out regular-season starts. They'll evaluate again after Fister's next turn, which should come Thursday in the final exhibition in Florida.
"We have to just take it start by start at this point," Williams said. "We have to make sure we monitor it. There's no thought about it yet other than we'll get him out there again and get him 60, maybe 65 and see where he's at."
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