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Fister strong as Tigers win sixth in a row

Fister strong as Tigers win sixth in a row

BALTIMORE -- As the Tigers were hovering below .500 for much of the first half of the season, manager Jim Leyland never questioned the caliber of his team.

Behind a dominant performance from starter Doug Fister and contributions up and down the lineup, the Tigers looked like the team they're capable of being on Friday -- the team Leyland always knew was in there somewhere.

"I've liked our club all along," Leyland said. "I never got off our club, even when we weren't playing good in the first half. I know it's a good club that's going to play good at some point, and now we've racked up six in a row, and that's pretty good."

After entering the All-Star break with five consecutive wins, the Tigers kept the hot streak going in a dominating 7-2 victory in the opener of a three-game set at Camden Yards, extending their winning streak to a season-high six, the longest active stretch in the Majors.

"We played a really good game tonight," Leyland said. "We looked like a really good team, and we are a good team."

Like the team as a whole, Fister hasn't always played to his potential this season. Hampered by injuries that have forced him into a pair of stints on the disabled list, Fister entered Friday 1-3 with an 8.85 ERA in his last four starts.

He responded with one of his best outings of the season, allowing only one run on three hits and no walks in seven innings.

"I think he had a little bit of a depressing first half, physically," Leyland said. "I thought he was terrific. I was really pleased with that. I thought it was important to show him some confidence after the first half and get him pitching, because he's huge for us. So, hopefully, that was a good sign."

Fister showed signs of peak performance right out of the gate, notching two strikeouts and inducing a pair of broken-bat groundouts in the first two innings -- a sign that he was locating his pitches and getting a lot of late movement.

After allowing eight runs on June 27, six runs on July 2 and four runs on Saturday, Fister viewed Friday's performance as a "good step in the right direction."

"[I] really focused on keeping the ball down and moving in and out on hitters," said Fister, who lamented his inability to drive the ball and keep it down in the zone during his rough stretch. "It's just a matter of finally getting back in line and back together again. It's a process that we're kind of really just trying to fine-tune."

"[I] really kind of forgot about mechanics and just went with feel, and tonight was a little better."

The right-hander retired the side in order in five of the first six innings, giving up a pair of doubles in the third that scored the Orioles' lone run against him.

Fister said he felt like he located the ball better than he had in his last few outings, part of the reason he struck out five looking in tying a season high with eight strikeouts.

He threw 65 of his 94 pitches for strikes.

"He mixes speeds more than I think I've ever seen," Orioles catcher Matt Wieters said. "It's tough when a guy has that kind of sinker and be able to mix in a curveball and a changeup. He did a great job tonight."

"He looked sharp, he looked confident," said Leyland, who added that Fister's curveball was a key piece of his arsenal on Friday. "He looked like he had confidence in making his pitches and getting the ball where he wanted to."

The Tigers pounded out 13 hits in support of Fister, most notably a 454-foot home run Miguel Cabrera blasted to dead center in the fifth.

Cabrera's homer was the only run the Tigers scored with less than two outs, as Detroit went 3-for-6 with two outs and runners in scoring position.

"We got some big hits up and down the lineup," Leyland said. "Everybody made a contribution, and that was good to see."

Jhonny Peralta also homered in the four-run fifth, scoring Delmon Young and Brennan Boesch with a three-run blast to right off of left-hander Dana Eveland.

Much-maligned second baseman Ryan Raburn recorded his 11th RBI with a single to left in the fourth, and Boesch got the scoring started with a two-run single in the first.

Every Tigers starter notched a hit with the exception of Quintin Berry, who made up for his 0-for-5 day with a sprinting, leaping catch in left to rob Wilson Betemit of a home run in the fifth.

"That's something special," Fister said.

"It was a beauty," Leyland said. "He made a great play, it was just a tremendous play."

After a moment of confusion when only Berry knew he'd made the catch, the left fielder jogged back to the dugout with a smile stretched across his face, tossing the ball into the stands and accepting congratulatory fist bumps from each of his teammates.

"I got a good jump, and it stayed in just enough so I could get to it," Berry said. "I thought everybody knew I had it, so I was still kind of excited myself, a little overly excited. But everybody let me know to let them know a little earlier next time."

Between Berry's defense, hits up and down the lineup and Fister's dominant performance, the Tigers opened the second half on the right foot.

"Tonight was another good step forward," Fister said. "It's momentum. The team is coming together. Everyone is coming together well and playing hard together. That's the biggest key for us. We'll keep it going tomorrow."

Greg Luca is an associate reporter for
Read More: Detroit Tigers, Doug Fister, Miguel Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta