April 11th, 2013

Game 9: Finally Fister

The first sign that Doug Fister wasn’t going to be bothered by 35-degree temperatures and a wind-driven rain came when he stepped onto the field without long sleeves. These were similar conditions to those that led Justin Verlander, who hates long sleeves, to wear them on Opening Day.

The next sign came when Fister started dropping curveballs. By the middle innings, he was repeating them, daring the aggressive Jays — who weren’t going to walk their way into a rally this time — to put one of those breaking balls in play. By game’s end, he had thrown 21 curveballs out of his 107 pitches. Two-thirds of those curveballs went for strikes, 11 of them for strikes not put in play, according to MLB.com’s Gameday data and brooksbaseball.net (though Jim Leyland indicated that some Jays hitters were chasing it out of the strike zone).

A look at Fister’s velocity graph, again thanks to brooksbaseball.net, shows pretty well how much Fister mixed his velocities.

fistervelocity041113

Weather like this around Detroit over this just-completed homestand left more than a few pitchers struggling to locate their breaking pitches. When asked how he managed to throw his so well, Fister initially shrugged it off, but later noted something important: He was able to make adjustments to tweak his pitches as the game went along.

For someone to do that in weather like this, and stick with the curve, is pretty impressive.

“A lot of it is mindset, staying with what works on a normal day, whether it’s 92 degrees or 35 degrees,” Fister said. “Just stick with what we’re trained to do. You find a little fine-tune adjustment through throwing it. It’s different in the bullpen. It’s different in the game.

“For me, it’s something that I’m always constantly working on in the game. If it’s short, there’s some things I need to do. If it’s high, more adjusting. It doesn’t matter if it’s cold, wet, hot, or anything else.”

His catcher, Alex Avila, said the wet part might have been better for that.

“Actually, the rain probably helps a little bit, because you need a little bit of moisture,” Avila said. “When it’s really cold and just dry, it makes it tough, because the balls are real slick. You’ve just got no feeling.”

Either way, this was the pitching we’ve become accustomed, maybe a little spoiled, to seeing from Doug Fister. We didn’t see it during his Spring Training struggles, mainly because he struggled to command everything. We saw progress with it in last Friday’s home opener, though he pitch very deep into the game with it.

Fister called it a timing tweak, staying back in his delivery and using his legs more.

“Today was definitely a step in the right direction,” Fister said.

The Tigers didn’t have any of their starters get past the sixth inning the first turn through the rotation. Fister was the third starter in Detroit’s last four games to pitch through seven innings, with Max Scherzer still left to complete his second turn. If they can get through at least six innings regularly, the Tigers bullpen by committee has a better chance of working.

Play of the game: Andy Dirks’ throw-out at home probably fills this category and the next one, but short of that, Omar Infante’s bunt deserves some recognition as the play that broke open the add-on rally that put the game out of reach. The ball was seemingly headed foul at least twice, but somehow stayed on path just inside the line, loading the bases with nobody out. The Tigers missed a couple chances like this on this homestand, but with the top of the order due up, they weren’t going to miss this one.

Biggest out: Fister cited the importance of what Leyland calls the shutdown inning, holding the other team scoreless after a pitcher gets a big inning from his own offense, in discussing how big Andy Dirks’ throw home on Melky Cabrera turned out to be. It was the third inning, but the Tigers had just built a 6-1 lead, the same margin the Jays overcame Wednesday.

“That’s a huge momentum builder for everybody, whether it’s me as a pitcher or anybody else standing around,” Fister said. “For us to score that inning, come back and put up a zero, I think that’s a big thing. That’s one of the things my college coach would always harp on, made it a huge focus. Score first, but put up a zero right after that. I think that says a lot for the team.”

Strategy: Leyland said after the game he called for the bunt, and had no problem doing it up 6-1.

“It was 6-1 yesterday at one time in the sixth inning and they came back, so I was trying to add on runs,” Leyland said.

Line of the day: Josh Johnson allowed six runs on seven hits over 1 1/3 innings, throwing 56 pitches in the process. Yeesh.

Stat of the day: 3 — Steals of third base by Miguel Cabrera in his Tiger tenure, which is only slightly less than his triples total (four)

Print it: “I’m not a fast runner, so I need to be a little bit smart. If I have a chance to do something, I have to make sure I’m going to be safe, 100 percent. Because [if it's] 90 percent, I’m going to be out. I have to be sure.” — Miguel Cabrera on his steal of third

Thursday: Tigers vs. Jays

At this point, the weather forecast suggests there’s a chance of getting this in. It’s mainly a question of when the rain starts up again, and when it becomes torrential. The forecast suggests that won’t happen until mid-afternoon. We’ll see.

It’s the Opening Day lineup today. As you can tell below, only a few Tigers have faced Josh Johnson, so there aren’t matchups to judge. All three Tigers who have faced him, though, have tripled off of him.

Victor Martinez is back in the starting lineup, which should be a good sign of his ability to bat left-handed with the bad right thumb. He didn’t have the thumb bandaged up as of Thursday morning.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Torii Hunter, RF (2-for-2, double, triple against Johnson)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B (4-for-11, double, triple, 2 RBIs against Johnson)
  5. Victor Martinez, DH
  6. Andy Dirks, LF
  7. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  8. Alex Avila, C
  9. Omar Infante, 2B (2-for-8, triple, 2 RBIs against Johnson)

P: Doug Fister

BLUE JAYS

  1. Jose Reyes, SS
  2. Melky Cabrera, LF (3-for-10, 3 K’s off Fister)
  3. Jose Bautista, RF (3-for-8, 2 doubles off Fister)
  4. Edwin Encarnacion, 1B (2-for-12 off Fister)
  5. J.P. Arencibia, C (0-for-1, walk off Fister)
  6. Rajai Davis, RF (11-for-26, 2 doubles off Fister)
  7. Colby Rasmus, CF (1-for-4, RBI off Fister)
  8. Mark DeRosa, 3B
  9. Maicer Izturis, 2B (2-for-10, 2 doubles off Fister)

P: Josh Johnson

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