Dunedin, Fla. — He did not make the Astros’ playoff roster last autumn. And part of the reason for being excused was that he walked too many batters in a 2017 season that saw him roll up a 5.22 ERA in 29 games, 28 of them starts.
When he walked three batters in the first inning and compounded the sting by allowing a pair of home runs in that same inning, Tigers followers were free to wonder just why Mike Fiers was brought aboard this season for $6 million.
But, as they say in spring camp, it’s early. And when Fiers calmed himself following a miserable opening inning and pitched splendidly through the second and third, Saturday became something other than the initial disaster it stood to be in a right-handed pitcher’s third Grapefruit League start.
“I did everything wrong in the first,” Fiers said in the visiting team’s clubhouse after the Blue Jays whipped the Tigers, 6-3, at Dunedin Stadium, thanks mostly to those three walks, which were preceded by a Curtis Granderson home run, and then a long grand-slam to right-center from Teoscar Hernandez. “That first inning got out of hand. And especially in the season that can’t happen. I’ve got to set the tempo and get the ball rolling.”
Fiers ended up putting away his last six batters, two on strikeouts. He threw 60 pitches, only 36 for strikes. He allowed three hits — the two homers, and a follow-up triple by Granderson. His fastball velocity was 92-93, good for Fiers. His slider, curveball, and change-up were his stronger pitches Saturday, in terms of early command.
“Location for me is key,” said Fiers, who had precious little of it in that opening frame. “It’s going to be a bad outing if you can’t get ahead.”
The Tigers, beginning with manager Ron Gardenhire, were soothed by Fiers’ finish.
“Just a little out of whack in that first inning,” Gardenhire said. “He made some adjustments. Started throwing some breaking balls for strikes and found his release point.
“He got in his work. Got in some innings. I’m not worried about that.”
Fiers’ pitch breakdown Saturday was, well, bizarre: He threw only six strikes in his first 21 pitches. He finished up throwing 30 strikes in his final 34 tosses.
“Even the triple I gave up to Granderson,” he said, referring to the one-time Tiger’s leadoff hit in the second, which popped against the top of the right-field fence, “I felt fine.”
He has felt fine, also, in the week since he began a rigid no-meat, no-dairy diet Fiers became sold on last year when ex-Tigers outfielder Cameron Maybin joined him on the Astros roster. Maybin had touted the diet after watching the movie “What The Health,” a flick Fiers finally took in a few weeks ago.
Now he’s sold on the new lower-fat, higher-fiber regimen, which of course features vegetables by the bushel.
“Feel amazing,” Fiers said. “It’s been a week and I’ll keep doing it. I feel like I have more energy waking up and going to bed.”
Gardenhire and the Tigers brass took heart Saturday not only in Fiers’ finale and in how the Tigers’ follow-up pitchers fared. They combined for 63 pitches, 45 of them for strikes. And allowed only a pair of hits.
Buck Farmer pitched two scoreless innings, allowing a single and whiffing two.
Paul Voelker had an 11-pitch, two-strikeout ninth, and showed why one of the farm system’s better bullpen stories the past three summers might be inching closer to Detroit.
Drew VerHagen was nicked for a run on a hit and a walk, but Joe Jimenez followed with a clean eighth, punching out a batter.
The Tigers got their runs on back-to-back doubles from Miguel Cabrera and John Hicks, and a two-run double from Edwin Espinal.
The Tigers outhit the Blue Jays, 11-5, but weren’t getting many reprieves after Fiers’ first-inning blackout. Their only extra-base hits were the two early doubles, and a later double from Jim Adduci.