Fister to give Red Sox different look in Game 4
Contact pitcher an alternative to Tigers' strikeout artists
DETROIT -- The last time Doug Fister faced the Red Sox was Sept. 2, a dreary Monday afternoon at Fenway Park that saw the towering 29-year-old fire seven scoreless innings in a 3-0 win.
No big deal?
Consider how good the Red Sox offense is, everywhere on the planet but especially at home. They ranked third in the Majors in home batting average (.285), second in home on-base percentage (.354) and first in home slugging percentage (.464). Only four other starting pitchers had taken the ball at Fenway Park and departed with no runs on the scoreboard during the 2013 regular season. Fister had joined Bartolo Colon (April 23), Scott Diamond (May 7), Esmil Rogers (June 29) and Matt Moore (July 22) with that feat, but he had accomplished so much more.
He found a way to attack them after getting shelled for six runs in 3 1/3 innings in a home outing against the Red Sox 10 weeks earlier.
And he might have found the secret heading into his start on Wednesday night, when Fister takes the ball at Comerica Park -- start time is 8 p.m. ET on FOX - in hopes of squaring the American League Championship Series at two games apiece.
"I think a lot of it is the fact of just executing -- keeping the ball down, mixing pitches and not getting in any sort of routine," Fister said. "Their hitters are very smart, very intelligent. And you know, we've seen each other a lot."
Enough for the Red Sox to know they're getting something completely different in Game 4.
Tale of the Tape: Game 4
|2013 regular season|
|Overall: 23 GS, 12-5, 4.17 ERA||Overall: 33 G (32 GS), 14-9, 3.67 ERA|
|Key stat: He's held right-handed hitters to a .659 OPS.||Key stat: He has allowed just five homers over 396 at-bats at Comerica Park this season.|
|At Comerica Park|
|2013: 0 G
Career: 5 GS, 1-3, 4.15 ERA
|2013: 15 GS, 8-5, 3.55 ERA
Career: 35 GS, 18-10, 3.18 ERA
|Against this opponent|
|2013: 1 GS, 1-0, 5.14 ERA
Career: 12 GS, 4-5, 4.83 ERA
|2013: 2 GS, 1-1, 5.23 ERA
Career: 8 GS, 2-4, 4.36 ERA
|Loves to face: Jhonny Peralta, 7-for-34, .626 OPS
Hates to face: Torii Hunter, 7-for-16, 1.283 OPS
|Loves to face: Mike Napoli, 2-for-14, .393 OPS
Hates to face: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 5-for-11, 1.364 OPS
|Why he'll win: He has gotten comfortable with new arm slot over the last month.||Why he'll win: He keeps the ball in the park.|
|Pitcher beware: Miguel Cabrera has taken him deep three times in 45 at-bats.||Pitcher beware: He has just 15 strikeouts to 11 walks in his career against current Red Sox hitters.|
|Bottom line: Peavy was efficient against the Rays in the ALDS and strike-throwing will be again be key.||Bottom line: Fister will need to pitch carefully against hitters that have batted .304 off him lifetime.|
Fister isn't a strikeout guy like Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez, a trio that punched out 35 batters while giving up a combined two runs on six hits in 21 innings of the first three games. The 6-foot-8 right-hander's game is all about generating contact on his terms, using downward movement to induce an inordinate number of ground balls that keep his pitch count efficient and his defense on its toes.
"He's more of a contact, mishit-it-type pitcher, with an excellent curveball and changeup, good movement," Tigers manager Jim Leyland described. "He's one of those guys that you don't expect the strikeouts, you expect him to put the ball in play a little more, and hopefully mishit the ball a little bit more."
Over the last three years, Fister has allowed the fifth-most ground balls in all of baseball. In 2013, he ranked fourth among qualifiers in ground ball-to-fly ball ratio. And during that Sept. 2 start, Fister induced three critical double plays.
Red Sox manager John Farrell remembers it well.
"He's got the ability to get two outs with one pitch," Farrell said. "Everything moves as it comes across home plate. He might not have the sheer power and velocity the other three guys have in this rotation, but he does it a little differently."
The fact Fister put up the numbers he did in 2013 -- 14-9 with a 3.67 ERA -- as a contact pitcher on a team that ranked third-to-last in Defensive Runs Saved only speaks to just how good the Tigers' No. 4 starter actually is.
Good luck hearing much about him, though.
On a staff that led the AL in ERA, Fister is very much an afterthought. Ahead of him is a reigning MVP (Verlander), the likely Cy Young Award winner (Scherzer) and the AL's ERA leader in 2013 (Sanchez).
Fister is just the guy who has won 35 games, posted a 3.30 ERA and compiled 586 2/3 innings since 2011, the guy with a 2.15 ERA in his last six playoff outings and the guy who's fresh off a quality start against the A's in Game 4 of the AL Division Series, which kept the Tigers' season alive and set it up for Verlander to dominate the deciding Game 5.
No big deal.
"My perception of it is the fact that I'm here," Fister said of perpetually being overlooked. "I want to be here. I want to be a part of the team. When I'm asked to pitch, that's when I got out there, whether I'm in the bullpen or in the starting rotation. That's my thing. I want to be a part of the team. I want to go out there and perform with the best of them."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.