May 2nd, 2012

Fister goes four innings for Hens (updated)

Doug Fister looked and sounded like somebody ready to return to the big leagues, tossing four scoreless innings on two hits with five strikeouts Wednesday night in his rehab start for Triple-A Toledo.

He stopped just short of saying he was ready to make his next start with Detroit, waiting to see how his left side feels on Thursday. But he doesn’t expect any hang-ups.

“I feel good. I can’t really ask for anything more right now,” Fister said after his outing. “I let it fly tonight. We’re still going to take it day-by-day, but we’re expecting the best.”

He expects it enough that he was willing to look ahead to his tentatively scheduled return Monday in Seattle against his former club.

“Obviously going back is going to be a little bit of fun,” he said, “and you know what, a little extra competition, it doesn’t change anything about the way I pitch, but it’s always more fun.”

To get back there, though, he had to get through here. Fister, sidelined since April 7 with a left costochondral strain, came to town with a pitch limit of about 75. With Tigers manager Jim Leyland in attendance watching his delivery, Fister threw 68 pitches, 44 of them for strikes.

“The thing I think the whole organization was looking for was he is healthy, he get through it, he’s ready to go out to Seattle in five days,” Mud Hens manager Phil Nevin said.

Fister used up 20 pitches in the first inning, but recovered from a Daniel Nava double off the left-field wall to fan Ryan Lavarnway on a curveball and Lars Anderson on a changeup.

A called third strike in the next inning meant Fister had struck out half of the first six PawSox he faced. From there, he seemed to find his rhythm, working at a quick pace and attacking the strike zone while changing speeds effectively.

“I pitched the same way I would pitch up there, made the same pitches, made the same locations,” he said.

After the opening inning, he didn’t reach a three-ball count until his lone walk with two outs in the fourth, and that came after an 0-2 count to Mauro Lopez. He retired seven straight PawSox before that, then ended his evening with a running catch from Eric Patterson near the left-field wall.

Fister topped out at 89 mph on the Fifth Third Field radar gun, but said he wasn’t worried about his velocity.

“Being able to keep the ball down was the main key for me, throwing the sinker and really the changeup,” Fister said. “But [I was] just trying to get all the pitches in, get some work in, really trying to focus on throwing the cutter a little bit more and just trying to be able to get back into the mental game of things too. …

“Tonight was just a matter of coming in here and trying to do things as normal as possible, trying to not favor [the injury] at all. At the beginning, I wasn’t trying to go 110 percent. It was a matter of gradually progressing into this and take it step and step. I felt good with it, so I took it to where I felt like I needed to go. That’s kind of where we’re at now.”

So about that ninth inning double …

Jim Leyland never takes the lineup card out to home plate, but he did on Tuesday. It was his chance to congratulate umpire Tim McClelland on his 4000th major league game.

By the ninth inning, Leyland was back out talking with McClelland, but he wasn’t exactly congratulating him. And McClelland was wondering how one play went from a home run to an out to a double with one errant raise of his arm.

“You would think a guy with 4000 games would have enough experience not to do that,” McClelland said with a smile.

But even guys with 4000 games have calls they don’t know how to react to. Jeff Franceour’s drive to left-center field off Phil Coke was one of them. McClelland, umpiring at second base, knew it was going to be close.

McClelland said he was focused on trying to make sure he could see whether it went over the fence. When it bounced off the top of the fence and Austin Jackson brought it back, it caught him off-guard.

“I was so concerned about home run or not a home run,” McClelland said, “and when I saw the ball pop up and the catch, instead of calling it wasn’t a home run, I put my hand up.”

He was trying to put up his arm to show that the ball stayed in the park. Instead, it was taken as a sign that Jackson had made the out.

“I was just confused because I was rounding second pretty hard and I saw McClelland putting up ‘out,’ and that’s when I stopped because, ‘How am I out when the ball hit the wall?’” Francoeur said.

Jackson couldn’t quite figure it out, either.

“At that point, I think I just thought I caught it for some reason. I don’t know,” Jackson said. “But once I saw [McClelland] call him out I kind of thought that I just robbed a home run. But that’s kind of a weird way to rob a home run, I guess.”

Yes, it is. And McClelland realized immediately that it’s a weird way to signal that it’s not a home run when it’s obviously a hit. As soon as Francoeur protested, McClelland admitted his bad signal. By then, though, Francoeur was between second and third base, and Ramon Santiago was coming over from second base with the ball to apply the tag.

That’s where a directive from Major League Baseball comes into play, according to McClelland: If a player stops off base because of an incorrect call, “we should do whatever we need to do to correct it.”

In other words, it’s much like an inadvertent whistle in football. So McClelland sent Francoeur back to second base and called it a ground-rule double.

Jim Leyland protested the call with a surprising fervor for somebody whose team had 9-3 lead, but to no avail.

“It was his 4,000th game today and it’d have been something to have to run somebody on your 4,000th game,” Francoeur said, “but everything turned out all right on that, though.”