WASHINGTON -- Less than 24 hours after acquiring right-hander Doug Fister, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo acknowledged he was in trade talks with the Tigers as far back as mid-November, before the General Managers Meetings in Orlando, Fla., began.
Besides Fister, Rizzo said he expressed interest in Detroit right-handers Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello. After the GM Meetings, though, the Nats turned their attention to Fister, and the two clubs were able to get a deal done Monday evening. After the deal was announced, Fister received a text message from shortstop Ian Desmond, who welcomed him to the team.
"There were some rumors going around [me and Max] were [on the trade block]," Fister said. "We were going to see how things played out. Finally, last night, the phone call was made. ... I haven't had a chance to talk to many of the guys back in Detroit -- yet. But I'm definitely excited to be [going to Washington]. I'm looking forward to going in Spring Training and being ready. I'm excited."
As a member of the Tigers, Fister was in a formidable rotation that included Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez. Now, Fister joins a rotation that includes Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez. The Nationals had been seeking a starter ever since they decided to part ways with free-agent right-hander Dan Haren.
"I'm looking forward to being in [the Nats' rotation]. They all have quite a bit of experience. They all have great stuff and I heard they are great teammates." Fister said.
Fister went 14-9 with a 3.67 ERA last season, and he ranked among the American League leaders in inducing ground-ball double plays (tied for first, 26), fewest home runs allowed per nine innings (second, 0.60), ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio (third, 2.17), walks per nine innings (fourth, 1.90), Fielding Independent Pitching (sixth, 3.32), wins (tied for eighth), strikeout-to-walk ratio (ninth, 3.61) and quality starts (tied for ninth, 22).
"We thought Fister was an undervalued asset. We had really strong scouting reports from our scouts in the field," Rizzo said. "We had extremely strong sabermetrics reports from our analysts. He is a guy I've seen pitch over the years. I scouted him personally at times, and he fit the criteria we were looking for. ... He is a big physical pitcher that takes the ball, logs innings, had success at the most crucial times in a season."
In five seasons with the Mariners and Tigers, Fister is 44-50 with a 3.53 ERA. He has struck out 6.3 batters per nine innings but combined that with a rate of 1.8 walks per nine. Fister also has produced a ground-ball percentage of 62 percent over his career, and his 68.4 percent mark last season was the fourth highest in the Majors.
"With our defensive alignment, I think he will thrive here," Rizzo said. "He is a guy that does a lot of the little things that will translate in the National League. He holds runners extremely well. He is one of the best at controlling the running game. He fields his position well. He can handle the bat pretty well for a guy who played his whole career in the American League."
Fister doesn't see his pitching style changing in the National League.
"When I'm on the mound, I'm going to go out there and do the same thing -- try and get hitters out," Fister said. "I know that things are a little different, like having to hit ourselves. I'm excited to be able to grab a bat again and work on my swing. But I don't think that's going to change with my pitching style. I'm going out there and pitch to our defense. ... I'm coming in [thinking] I'm blessed to have a team that is on the rise and where it needs to be. It has a great defense, great offense. I'll be foolish not to use them."
To Rizzo, Fister is one of the toughest guys in the Majors. In the second inning of Game 2 of the 2012 World Series, Fister was shaken up after a line drive off the bat of Giants outfielder Gregor Blanco hit him in the head. Fister stayed in the game and managed to throw six innings, though he picked up the loss.
"This is a character guy. He is a tough guy on the mound and wants to be out there at the most crucial time. He has had great postseason success," Rizzo said. "He is battle-tested; he is playoff-tested. He gives you quality starts and goes deep in the game. He is only 29 years old. You have him controlled for multiple years. We feel good about the acquisition and the person that we are bringing into the Nationals family."
With Fister on board, the Nats have to figure out who will be the fifth starter. That pitcher will come from within the organization. Tanner Roark, Taylor Jordan and Ross Detwiler are the early candidates. It would not come as a surprise if only Roark and Jordan battled for the spot, as the team is seriously considering Detwiler for the bullpen.
"We have great depth at that spot," Rizzo said. "When you talk about Detwiler, Roark, Jordan, [Nathan] Karns and Sammy Solis and the younger wave of guys that could get here in the future, I feel good about where we are at. It made it possible to move Robbie Ray in a trade because of starting-pitching depth. It's close to the Major Leagues."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats.