HOWARD FENDRICH, AP Sports Writer
The talks leading to the deal that sent Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals began last month, when the names of a couple of other Detroit Tigers pitchers — AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello — also were mentioned.
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said Tuesday, a day after acquiring Fister, that during telephone conversations with Tigers counterpart Dave Dombrowski, “We originally kicked the tires” on all three of those Detroit starters.
After the GM meetings, though, “we turned our focus mostly towards Doug Fister,” Rizzo said.
“We really had identified Doug as our primary acquisition target as far as starting pitchers go,” Rizzo said during a conference call with reporters. “We thought he was an undervalued asset.”
The 6-foot-8 Fister, a right-hander who is 29, will be under team control for the next two years. He went 14-9 with a 3.67 ERA last season.
“It’s a good day in the Nationals’ office when the sabermetricians and the scouts in the field see the players in the same way. It makes things much easier for me. That’s what we had here,” Rizzo said. “We feel we’ve got a good defensive infield. Him being a 55-percent groundball guy, I think he’ll flourish with that.”
In Monday’s trade, Detroit got utility player Steve Lombardozzi, left-handed reliever Ian Krol, and lefty pitching prospect Robbie Ray — a trio Rizzo called “palatable” to part with.
“We know that Doug is a terrific competitor, he’s a tough pitcher on the mound, and is really one of the more successful pitchers in baseball the last three years,” Rizzo said.
“We really like our ballclub, we like our rotation, and we recognize we’re not without flaws,” he added.
Fister adds to a rotation that already included Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann. As for the fifth member of the staff, while Rizzo said he does not think he needs to acquire another starter, he did not commit to left-hander Ross Detwiler getting the job.
“The difference this year from previous years (is) we’ve got great depth at that spot. When you talk about Detwiler and (Tanner) Roark and Taylor Jordan and (Nate) Karns and (Sammy) Solis, and then the younger wave of guys that could get here in the future, we feel good about where we’re at,” Rizzo said.
Moving forward, Rizzo said that helping the bullpen — a lefty, in particular — and the bench are priorities for the rest of the offseason.
“We’re better suited going into spring training with our left-handed bullpen than we (were) last year. But it’s something that we’re looking into the free agent market or the trade market and trying to upgrade,” Rizzo said. “It’s a spot that we feel that we have to upgrade at.”
When free-agent second baseman Robinson Cano was brought up by a reporter in a tongue-in-cheek manner, Rizzo did not say the Nationals aren’t interested, instead offering something close to his usual response when asked about possible acquisitions.
“Well, those are things that, of course, I’m not going to address with the media on the phone, but like I said, we’re going to do what we have to do to improve the ballclub,” he said. “We’ve taken a step forward in acquiring Fister and we’re looking forward to tweaking things and making us a better ballclub.”
On other topics, Rizzo said:
— Anthony Rendon will “go into spring training as our starting second baseman. But we’re going to have competition at that position, and there’s going to be competition for several roster spots.”
— Danny Espinosa, banished to the minors last season after hitting .158 with 47 strikeouts in 158 at-bats, “is going to go to spring training and battle for a job on the roster.”
— Washington “made it clear” to other teams there are a handful of players it wouldn’t trade, including Rendon and minor league pitching prospect Lucas Giolito, a 2012 draft pick.
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