Chris McCosky checks in from Lakeland with Bob Wojnowski on the start of spring training, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and more. The Detroit News
Lakeland, Fla. — The Tigers are counting on right-hander Mike Fiers to give them 30 starts and 180-plus innings, to be a stabilizer in a mostly young starting rotation.
They are not asking him to reinvent himself. They are asking him to be the pitcher he’s always been — before last season.
“It sucks when you know you are a lot better than that,” Fiers said of his struggles with the Astros last season, which ultimately cost him a spot on their postseason roster. “That’s pretty much what I pride myself on — making these (hitters) earn their way on base and throwing a lot of strikes and not giving all those free passes.
“It’s just about getting back to where I was pounding the zone a lot more.”
About last season.
Fiers lost his biggest asset as a pitcher — the ability to throw his pitches precisely where he wanted to. He had a career-worst 9.2 walk percentage, 62 in 153.1 innings. And the walks were only part of the problem.
He was pitching behind in the count way too often. Of the 671 hitters that stepped up against him, 447 got ahead in the count at some point in the at-bat (according to Baseball Reference). And those hitters hit.306 against him in those batter-friendly counts, including 24 of the 32 home runs he allowed.
The 224 hitters he got ahead of hit just .196.
It may not be a coincidence that Fiers’ command became gradually more sketchy the longer he was apart from pitching coach Chris Bosio. They were together in the Brewers system where Fiers had a dominant 8-0, 1.11 ERA run through Triple A in 2011.
It was a happy accident that the two have been reunited in Detroit. Fiers had signed a one-year, $6 million contract with the Tigers before Bosio was hired to join Ron Gardenhire’s staff.
“I have a history with him,” Bosio said. “I know the individual and I know his mechanics. In our first couple of bullpens, I figured some things out immediately with his posture and things of that nature.
“We made some adjustments and his command was better.”
Fiers agreed. He’s seen immediate results.
“I think it’s just bringing me back to where I was in the past,” he said. “Where I’ve gone in the past couple of years, what I’d gotten away from — he just kind of brings you back. He talked about what he saw in the past and what he sees now.”
No two pitching coaches are alike, and certainly the methods of Astros pitching coach Brent Strom have a proven track record with the likes of Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers Jr. and Charlie Morton.
But for Fiers, being reunited with Bosio has been like slipping back into a pair of comfortable old shoes.
“He just knows me pretty well,” Fiers said. “So getting with me this spring, seeing me throwing off the mound, he was able to make small adjustments here and there on the different pitches. That’s how you get back to throwing more strikes and being more consistent.
“It’s a small process. … Nothing too serious. But those small things become big things in the end.”
Fiers is a little bit behind in his throwing program. He had to miss one day to tend to a personal matter, so he has thrown one bullpen less than the other starters. That’s why he hasn’t been put into the exhibition rotation yet.
“Just taking it easy,” he said. “I just have to catch up and get on the same program with everybody else.”
He’s stretched out to about 34 pitches right now. The others starters are throwing 50-pitch bullpens.
“Coming off a long season, it just doesn’t feel like there was much time in the off-season,” he said. “Just trying to find out when to start throwing and when to ramp it back up. But I feel like I am on a good path.”