Washington, D.C. -- A popular topic of conversation among Nationals fans, both on sports talk radio and at Nationals Park, is what starting pitcher would get the ball for the first game of a five-game playoff if such a series began today.
The common response is not Stephen Strasburg, the one-time overall No. 1 draft pick. And it's not Jordan Zimmermann, who has been a consistent presence in the rotation for years, or even Tanner Roark, who has one of the best ERAs in the majors since he was called up to Washington just more than a year ago.
The popular pick as the staff ace is Doug Fister, whom the Nationals acquired from the Detroit Tigers in a trade during December 2013.
Fister will take a record of 12-3 into his scheduled start Aug. 22 at Nationals Park against the San Francisco Giants. The Nationals lost two good young pitchers (Robbie Ray and Ian Krol) in that Fister deal, along with infielder and Atholton High graduate Steve Lombardozzi, but at this point, Washington general manager Mike Rizzo certainly has no regrets.
Fister has not allowed an earned run in the 22.1 innings, after he went seven innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates Aug. 17 and allowed two unearned runs.
Fister was not involved in the decision as the Nationals tied the game in the bottom of the ninth, and then beat the Pirates in the bottom of the 11th as Scott Hairston had a sacrifice fly to score Jayson Werth for the game-winning run in a 6-5 decision.
"Today was a tribute to team mentality in general," Fister said. "Guys are playing well together. It is a crazy game."
It was the second of three straight "crazy" games the first-place Nationals won in walk-off fashion. The third came Aug. 18 against the Arizona Diamondbacks as Adam LaRoche hit a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 11th. Washington has now posted four walk-off wins during its last five home games.
During his last 10 outings, Fister is 7-1 with an ERA of 1.57 with nine walks and 41 strikeouts.
For the year, he is 12-3 with 2.20 ERA during 18 starts. During 118.2 innings, Fister has given up 111 hits and 14 walks -- that is less than one per start -- and has 74 strikeouts.
"I'm trying to get quick groundballs and quick outs," he said. "That is the way it goes. Guys are fighting for each other."
And they are winning, with a different every hero every night. While Strasburg and outfielder Bryce Harper have gotten the headlines in the past, it is players such as Fister that help make the Nationals a World Series contender.