Fister coming along, Dirks returns

FOX Sports Detroit

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — If you asked him, Doug Fister would probably say his start Sunday was just a step in the process.

But it was a positive step, if you listen to his manager and catcher.

Against the New York Mets in Port St. Lucie, Fister allowed two runs on four hits while walking four and striking out four. He improved to 2-3 with a 6.52 ERA.

“I thought he got better as the game went on,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “Early on, he was still off.”

Fister walked three of the first seven batters he faced but did get a couple of double-play balls, one to end the third inning and another in the fourth.

“He’s still having a little bit of command issues with his fastball but overall he threw well,” catcher Alex Avila said. “His stuff was good. It’s just a matter of him getting his mechanics down, being able to repeat them.

“He’s always been a bit of a slow starter, at least the last two and a half years or so that I’ve caught him. He’s on the right track and it looks like he’s going to peak at the right time.”

Avila also caught Fister’s last start, the one in which he gave up seven run on seven hits while walking three against the Tampa Bay Rays. In Avila’s mind, Fister just has to get his sinker perfected and everything will be fine.

“Just finding his release point,” Avila said. “A lot of times he’s very pinpoint and can hit a gnat on the corner of the plate if he wanted to most of the time. His last few outings, the only pitch that he’s having little bit of trouble commanding is his sinker, especially inside to lefties, opposite of his arm side. With him, it’s just release point, going through repetitions. He was definitely much better (Sunday).”

Dirks finally plays

After missing three games with a bruised right knee, Andy Dirks finally started in left field Sunday.

“It was good,” Dirks said. “It was kind of what I expected, just slight discomfort. But it’s just something I gotta get out there and just start playing on it.”

Leyland had said before the game that he could have scratched Dirks if Dirks didn’t feel good moving around in batting practice but was glad he was able to get some at-bats.

Dirks went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts.

“I wouldn’t say rusty, more just feeling it out,” Dirks said of his day at the plate. “More than anything, trying to get up against my front side and things like that. And game speed’s always different than trying to work off on the side.”

Dirks said that based on how he felt after Sunday’s game, he thought he’d be able to play Monday in Jupiter.

Good day for Al Al

Leyland criticized reliever Al Alburquerque’s command after his last outing but was much happier with him Sunday.

Alburquerque started the sixth inning and allowed a leadoff double to Marlon Byrd before striking out the next three batters.

“I thought he threw the ball outstanding,” Leyland said. “He got sliders in the area where he wanted to. He did terrific.”

Alburquerque said he’d been working on his command and felt the difference Sunday.

“I feel really good today,” Alburquerque said. “I got command of my off(-speed) pitch and my fastball, really good with my slider down today, just good speed.

“I feel better control. Everything I’m working on right now I’m putting together. I’m being aggressive and throw my pitches when I need.”

Leyland has a decision or two left in the bullpen and Alburquerque might have been on the bubble before Sunday.

“My confidence is really good,” Alburquerque said. “I know I’m throwing strikes, I can pitch in whatever league and at that level.”