Tigers’ Mike Fiers battles, escapes with another win

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — Promise we won’t ask this question after every one of his starts, but, seriously, how does Mike Fiers do it?

He grinded through 5.1 innings Saturday in the Tigers' 12-4 win over the Royals. He didn’t throw a pitch harder than 87.5 mph Saturday. He got very little help from his defense. The Royals put 13 runners on base in the first five-plus innings — 10 hits.

And yet, when he departed with one out and two on in the sixth inning, he had allowed just two earned runs.

“Anyone who’s ever played this game has been through a lot of stuff,” said Fiers, who is now 2-1 in three starts. “Things happen in baseball. It’s a messed-up sport at times. But you just stick with it.”

Opposing hitters very rarely swing at Fiers’ slow curveball — a pitch he floats in between 66 and 69 mph. The Royals were attacking it. They had four hits off that pitch.

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“They were swinging at everything,” he said. “Swinging early and swinging often. I definitely had to make quality pitches early on.”

One of those hits off his curveball, though, should have been caught. Abraham Almonte popped one into short center field in the fourth inning. The Tigers were up 3-1 at the time. Center fielder Leonys Martin and shortstop Jose Iglesias both converged on it. Both pulled back at the last minute and the ball dropped.

“These guys have my back,” Fiers said. “They are fighting for me and I fight for them. Things happen and you get kind of frustrated. But you’ve got to put it behind you and keep the game close. I was able to do that.”

Alcides Escobar followed with a single, putting runners at first and second. Drew Butera bunted in front of the plate. Catcher James McCann pounced on it and had a play at third. But the ball rolled out of his hand — error.

The two runs scored on a groundout by Jon Jay and a sacrifice fly by Whit Merrifield — both unearned.

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“Mike gave us a good effort,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “I don’t know if he was feeling his best but he battled through it.”

Fiers’ average fastball will sit at 89-90 mph on a good day. He was at 86 mph Saturday. He has dealt with lower back stiffness most of his career and he labored with it again.

“I’m always fighting through something,” he said. “The first inning or so, just to get loose is the biggest thing for me. When I’m not flexible, I’m not able to reach out there and let the ball go out front.

“I definitely had some trouble, but I was able to get through. My back started to loosen and felt better later on.”

Fiers and Dan Petry are the only Tigers to give up 10 or more hits in less than six innings, with no strikeouts and still get the win, per research by MLB.com.