By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Senior Staff Writer
If I told you on July 25th that Doug Fister would be the best starting pitcher on the Red Sox staff come the first week of September; you would have immediately sent me for a drug-test – or at least, you should have.
Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski picked Fister up off the scrap heap on June 23rd, after the 33-year-old veteran opted out of his minor-league deal with the Los Angeles Angels. The move was made out of necessity, after the team lost two starters – knuckleballer Stephen Wright for the season, and Eduardo Rodriguez for almost a month; both with differing knee injuries – because of the dearth of depth of starting pitching in their minor-league system.
Fister’s start with his new team was inauspicious, to say the least. While he pitched reasonably well in his first start against the team that formerly held his rights – the Angels, at Fenway Park on June 25th , going six innings and giving up just three runs in a 4-2 loss – however, after surrendering six runs in 3 2/3 innings against the Texas Rangers at home, manager John Farrell banished him to the bullpen.
When he took the hill at Fenway Park against the Cleveland Indians on July 31st – due to David Price going on the DL yet again for an elbow issue in his pitching arm – he was 0-5, with a 6.04 ERA and was seemingly pitching for his major-league life. He captured his first win in a Red Sox uniform that night, dazzling the Tribe and taking a shutout into the 8th inning.
He has rarely looked back since.
Just as the rest of the rotation has sputtered a bit, Fister has stepped up and been a godsend for the Sox. Since that last Monday night in July, Fister has fizzled only once – ironically, against the Indians at Fenway – in the six starts he has made for the Sox, but even after getting spanked for five runs in 4 1/3 innings, he bounced back in his next start at Cleveland, and held the troublesome Tribe hitless, after surrendering a leadoff home run to Francisco Lindor.
And the timing for his hot streak couldn’t have been better, for a team that seemingly can’t get out of its own way for stretches this season.
The mainstay of the Red Sox run to first place in the American League East – their pitching staff – has been ailing recently. The nearly untouchable ace in the first-half Chris Sale, has suddenly become mortal, as the calendar flipped to August and now September. Rick Porcello has pitched more like your uncle Cy than the AL Cy Young award winner he was last season, for most of the spring and summer. And, with each season that passes, Rodrigues is looking like a lefthanded version of Clay Buchholz; injury prone and disappointing when he is healthy.
On Wednesday night, with the entire bullpen gassed from the 18 inning marathon 3-2 win against the Toronto Blue Jays the previous evening/morning, Fister gave Manager John exactly what he needed, seven strong innings on their way to a cushy 6-1 victory.
If the playoffs started next week, it would not be difficult to argue that Fister should get the ball for game two against the Indians, as opposed to the unpredictable Porcello. While he may not overpower you, the crafty righty knows how to pitch. Not to mention, he has a postseason record of 4-2 in eight career starts, and a very impressive 2.60 ERA in October on his resume, something the soon to be former Cy Young winner does not have.
In his past three starts, Fister has gone seven innings each time, dropping only a hard luck 2-1 loss against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway. He shut down the Yankees 4-1 in Boston’s only win in the Bronx last weekend, and has surrendered a total of 17 hits and four runs in 21 innings of work.
Not bad for a guy off the scrap heap, eh?
The quicker the Red Sox put the AL East division pennant in the back pocket, the better it will be for the entire team. Clearly Sale has to refuel for the playoffs, and there are plenty of position players who could use a couple of days off.
With 20 games left, and a three-game lead over the Yanks in the loss column; it is too back that the September ace for the Sox, likely only gets four more starts.
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