DETROIT — Prince Fielder will get the headlines and highlights for his two home runs, but the Tigers had an unsung hero Friday.
Drew Smyly struck out five and didn’t allow a hit in the 8-3 win over the New York Yankees, pitching four scoreless innings for his first major-league save.
“I didn’t even realize it until someone told me after the game,” Smyly said. “I didn’t think you could get a save going four innings, but it’s pretty cool.
“I’m glad I got it. I got a win and my first save against the Yankees.”
Smyly got a spot in the bullpen to open the season because manager Jim Leyland considers him one of the team’s 12 best pitchers.
Smyly also pitched Monday, on Opening Day in Minnesota, but never looked comfortable with his command.
He looked extremely comfortable Friday.
“After the first inning or two, I knew everything was going good,” Smyly said. “I had a good feel for my fastball, trying to throw strikes. The lineup’s filled with lefties, so it was a good opportunity for me to kind of get stretched out, still get some of my innings in.
“I was taking it inning by inning, but when Skip left me out there for the ninth, I was pretty excited. I didn’t know if he would or not, but I’m glad he had faith in me.”
Catcher Alex Avila said the problem that plagued Smyly in the first game is what all the starters have been dealing with — adjusting to the cold, dry weather, where it’s harder to get a grip on the ball and find the right release point.
“He threw great,” Avila said of Smyly’s latest outing. “Pretty much if it wasn’t for Prince’s home runs, he was the reason why we won.
“His fastball command was great today and really showed why he definitely belonged on this team.”
None of the Tigers’ starters has gone more than five innings so far, which has taxed the bullpen already.
Having Smyly follow Doug Fister’s five innings with four easy ones was just what the doctor ordered.
“Huge,” Avila said. “We’ve had to use a lot of guys early on. That was definitely big.”
Torii Hunter was thrilled with his fellow Arkansas native’s performance.
“That’s what I’m excited about,” Hunter said. “Arkansas just definitely came through today. He pitched his butt off.
“He had the two-seamer working, the off-speed working, had those guys off-balance. He pitched four innings. You gotta tip your cap to that guy.”
Smyly was just happy to have his customary command back after walking three batters and giving up two runs on three hits in 1 1/3 innings against the Twins. Smyly lowered his ERA from 13.50 to 3.38.
“After my last outing in Minnesota, it kind of sticks with you when you can’t find the strike zone,” Smyly said. “You feel like you let your team down.
“I was real happy how I bounced back today. That’s what you’ve got to do to stay up here.”