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Tigers need Fister to stay mentally tough

Tigers need Fister to stay mentally tough

Tigers need Fister to stay mentally tough play video for Tigers need Fister to stay mentally tough
ARLINGTON -- When the Tigers traded for Doug Fister in late July, they knew they were getting a solid starter with better upside than his numbers indicated in Seattle.

But Fister, who will throw the first pitch of Game 3 of the American League Championship Series against Texas on Tuesday at 8:05 p.m. ET in Detroit, has far exceeded expectations with a bulldog approach that belies his lack of playoff experience.

Fister, 27, pitched the Tigers to the ALCS with a victory over the Yankees in Game 5 of the AL Division Series, throwing five innings of one-run ball in Thursday's 3-2 win. Now, he takes the ball again for a Detroit team trying to turn the tide back its way following a second loss in as many games to the Rangers on Monday in Arlington.

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It's remarkable territory for the lanky right-hander, who was 3-12 with a 3.33 ERA for the Mariners this year and sported a 12-30 record in three seasons in Seattle, though he performed far better than his win-loss record for a team with the AL's worst offense the past two years.

Tale of the Tape: Game 3
2011 Regular Season
Overall: 32 GS, 14-10, 4.40 ERA, 56 BB, 169 K
Overall: 31 GS, 11-13, 2.83 ERA, 37 BB, 146 K
Key stat: 3.43 ERA on the road in the regular season, compared to 5.54 at home
Key stat: Averaged 7.3 K/9 in regular season after joining the Tigers
At Comerica Park
2011: 1 GS, 0-0, 9.00
Career: 2 GS, 0-1, 5.79
2011: 6 GS, 4-1, 1.61
Career: 7 GS, 4-2, 2.37
Against this opponent
2011: 2 GS, 0-1, 15.95
Career: 5 GS, 2-2, 7.48
2011: 2 GS, 1-1, 3.68
Career: 6 GS, 2-3, 4.38
Loves to face: Brandon Inge, 0-for-7
Hates to face: Austin Jackson, 6-for-15
Loves to face: Elvis Andrus, 3-for-19
Hates to face: David Murphy, 6-for-16
Game breakdown
Why he'll win: Righties hit .204 off him this regular season
Why he'll win: Gave up five ER in 36 2/3 IP at home with the Tigers
Pitcher beware: Tigers have owned him this season and in career
Pitcher beware: 6.52 ERA in two postseason starts
Bottom line: Shut down Tigers righties
Bottom line: Home cooking

The Mariners finished with two or fewer runs in 16 of the 21 games Fister started this season, a far cry from his experience with the Tigers. He had a 2-0 lead on Thursday before he even stepped on the mound at Yankee Stadium.

Fister acknowledged that "it's definitely nice to receive run support from the get-go," but he insists it doesn't change his outlook.

"Really, for me, everything stayed the same," said Fister, who has gone 9-2 with a 2.25 ERA for the Tigers in 13 starts since his July 30 acquisition. "Yeah, I've got a different jersey on and I'm around different personnel. But it's the same approach, same mindset, same everything, as far as the game of baseball. Obviously, I'm getting some better results. I can't explain it, but at this point, I'm just relying on the team we've got around us."

Tigers skipper Jim Leyland hasn't hesitated to put his new starter into the thick of things. Fister is in line to start Game 3 and, if necessary, a decisive Game 7.

Pressure? Even in Seattle, Fister showed a knack for digging deep and pitching his way out of trouble. He escaped a treacherous bases-loaded jam at Yankee Stadium in Game 5 and said it helped to draw on his experience in a late-April game at Fenway Park, where he worked out of two such spots in a 2-0 Mariners victory over the Red Sox.

Fister's calm demeanor stems from an ability to shut out his surroundings and focus on the task at hand, no matter how intense the circumstances.

"It's funny, but you go back to 'For the Love of the Game' and how you 'clear the mechanism' or whatever your saying is," Fister said. "Just everything goes silent. You don't hear the crowd; it's just you and the catcher. That's how it was [on Thursday at Yankee Stadium].

"It's an amazing feeling, and it's really unexplainable, but they portrayed it very well in the movie. That's exactly how it is. It goes from a real broad focus to just a tunnel vision, knowing what you're doing and what the catcher is doing and being in the right frame of mind to go out there and not pay attention to anything but your job."

Leyland has seen that single-minded focus since Fister's arrival in a deal that cost the Tigers four young players -- outfielder Casper Wells, pitcher Charlie Furbush, reliever Chance Ruffin and third-base prospect Francisco Martinez -- in exchange for Fister and reliever David Pauley.

"Obviously, when we made the trade, he was kind of under the radar," Leyland said. "We knew we were getting a good pitcher. I'd be lying if I said we thought he would be this good.

"He doesn't seem to get rattled. He's aggressive. He's a fierce competitor. He does a nice job. He went right after the Yankees, and I respect him. That's the way he's pitched ever since he got over here, and that's the way we saw him when he pitched against us with Seattle."

Having been in the AL West, Fister has plenty of experience pitching against the Rangers. He's 2-3 with a 4.38 ERA in six starts against Texas, including a 5-4 win as a member of the Tigers on Aug. 3, when he gave up eight hits and three runs (two earned) in seven innings at Comerica Park.

Fister is eager to return to Detroit for Game 3, though unlike Rangers starter Colby Lewis, the right-hander stayed with the Tigers in the dugout for Monday's game instead of flying ahead early to get extra rest.

"It'll be nice pitching in front of our fans back home," Fister said. "We have a great atmosphere back there. After seeing our fan base, especially in the playoffs, it's an incredible feeling to stand up and look in the crowd and see everybody waving their white towels and being up, screaming on their feet. I'm looking forward to pitching in that atmosphere.

"But Texas has a great lineup. They're in this Championship Series along with us for a reason. They've fought well and hard all year long. We definitely respect everybody, but we're going to stick to our guns and play the best ball we can."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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