Tigers’ Fister solid in return

DETROIT — To get an idea of the importance of Doug
Fister to the Tigers and what they’re trying to accomplish, you only need to
hear his manager speak.

“It’ll be a long night for me, wondering kind of what he’s going to show
up like (Sunday),” manager Jim Leyland said. “So that’ll be
interesting, praying that everything’s OK.”

Fister on Saturday came off the disabled list (left side strain) for the second
time this season and showed why he might be the team’s most valuable pitcher
behind Justin Verlander.

Over six innings, the tall right-hander held the Colorado Rockies scoreless on
three hits. Fister walked one, stuck out six and hit one batter. Of his 82
pitches, 54 were strikes.

The final result was a 4-1 victory, Fister’s first win since last season.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” Fister said. “Felt
no pain, no discomfort, so it was a good day overall. I executed some pitches
when I needed to, and (catcher) Gerald (Laird) did a tremendous job back there.
We worked well together, communicated and let the defense do the work.”

When Fister is on, he’s gets ahead of hitters, works quickly and induces batters
to ground out. That’s pretty much what happened Saturday.

“I wouldn’t have guessed he missed a couple weeks on the DL, coming back
with no rehab start,” Laird said. “He looked good.

“It was nice to see him get in a groove early, kind of get his confidence
going. It was just fun to be back there with him. He’s mixing it up real well.
He’s getting ahead of hitters, and when he got in a little bit of trouble, he
made pitches and got key ground balls.”

Defensively, Fister benefited from the work of Ramon Santiago at second base
and Ryan Raburn in left field.

“I love playing defense when he pitches because he keeps you on your toes
all the time,” Santiago said. “And he don’t miss his location very
much, so it’s easy for me to position myself.”

Fister didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning when Carlos Gonzalez hit an
infield single to third. Third baseman Miguel Cabrera fielded the ball, but
didn’t have a chance to throw Gonzalez out at first.

As the game progressed, Fister wasn’t quite as sharp. He allowed a double to
Todd Helton and hit Jordan Pacheco in the fifth but worked out of that jam.

In the sixth, Fist walked Marco Scutaro on four pitches with one out and
Gonzalez followed with a singl. But Fister induced former Minnesota Twin
Michael Cuddyer to ground into an inning-ending double play. It was Fister’s
final pitch of the day.

“That sixth inning, he had a four-pitch walk,” Leyland said.
“When Doug Fister has a four-pitch walk, you start to worry a little bit.
That was a red flag for me.

“The biggest out of the game today was in that sixth inning when he got
the double-play ball from Cuddyer. Biggest two outs, really.”

Fister said in most situations, he’ll rely on his best pitch, the sinker.
That’s what he retired Cuddyer on for the double play.

“It’s one of those things where Cuddyer’s a tough out, and he’s been a
tough out ever since he’s with Minnesota,” Laird said. “We went with
Fisty’s strength and just kind of came after him with sinkers, and that’s the
pitch he gets a lot of ground balls on.

“He was able to make a pitch right there, and that was the biggest at-bat
of the game.”

Although the Rockies had never faced Fister before, manager Jim Tracy had seen
him pitch and witnessed exactly what he expected.

“He pitches backward, where he uses the fastball but his other pitches are
his primary weapons,” Tracy said. “He was able to take advantage of
our young players like that because they don’t see much of that in the minor
leagues, and especially not done at that level.”

Tigers fans fell in love with Fister when he came to Detroit from the Seattle
Mariners at the trade deadline. He went 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA and 0.84 WHIP for
the Tigers in 2011.

Although Fister might not pitch quite that well the rest of this season, if
he’s healthy, he can be a difference-maker that settles the whole rotation.

“It makes us a different club,” Leyland said. “We get Ricky
(Porcello) and Scherz (Max Scherzer) going consistently. Because they’re both
excellent pitchers … we get them going consistent with the big guy (Verlander)
and then Fister coming in, that would be a big help for us.”

Laird said a healthy Fister would be “huge” for the Tigers (31-34).

“He’s going to be a big reason why if we repeat and we’re able to do the
same thing,” Laird said.

Santiago channeled Terrell Owens, whose famous line was, “Get your popcorn
ready,” when he talked about the kind of impact Fister could have.

“It’s going to be a difference,” Santiago said. “Watch from now
on.”