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Fiers pleased with scoreless debut for Tigers

Righty working on mental approach with former pitching coach
Special to MLB.com

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Despite wearing a new uniform this spring, Tigers starter Mike Fiers feels a lot of familiarity. The youthful exuberance of this clubhouse reminded him a lot of what he saw during his time with the Astros. He also sees a coaching staff that is supportive and always has their players' backs as the organization rebuilds.

It also helps to have an offense capable of staking him to an early eight-run lead.

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CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Despite wearing a new uniform this spring, Tigers starter Mike Fiers feels a lot of familiarity. The youthful exuberance of this clubhouse reminded him a lot of what he saw during his time with the Astros. He also sees a coaching staff that is supportive and always has their players' backs as the organization rebuilds.

It also helps to have an offense capable of staking him to an early eight-run lead.

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"It's going to be a good year," Fiers said. "I think with all the rebuilding talk that is going on with the Tigers, this team can be very good."

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Fiers earned the victory after tossing two scoreless innings in the Tigers' 11-6 win over the Phillies on Tuesday. The right-hander gave up one hit and a walk in his Detroit and Grapefruit League debut.

"Mainly it was good to get up and get down, and get up again and build until I'm up to at least six innings before the season starts," Fiers said. "After two innings, I'm feeling good right now so we'll build off that."

Fiers signed a one-year, $6 million free-agent deal in December after going 21-19 with a 4.48 ERA in 384 innings over three seasons with the Astros. As part of last season's World Series championship rotation, he went 8-10 with a 5.22 ERA.

"He can pitch," Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He knows how to pitch. He knows how to change speeds and all those things. He's going to be good for us as long as he's healthy."

Fiers, currently slotted into the No. 3 spot in the rotation, struggled with his control at times last season. His walks per nine innings jumped from 2.2 in 2016 to 3.6 in '17. He also tied for the American League lead in hit batsmen with 13. The 32-year-old is trying to reverse that trend after being reunited with Tigers pitching coach Chris Bosio this spring. The two previously worked together when Fiers was coming up through the Brewers' system.

"It feels like we never really got off track," Fiers said. "I think I lost a lot of the mental stuff that he's taught me. Coming back to Bos and working with him, he's got me back on track.

"Some guys you get. Some guys just make sense to you."

One of the main priorities is to throw strikes early to avoid falling behind in counts. It appears to be working. On Tuesday, Fiers threw first-pitch strikes to five of the eight batters he faced.

"The biggest thing is command and feeling good, and feeling healthy, being able to throw your pitches and if you make a mistake, being able to come back and throw that same pitch, repeat it and make the adjustment to throw it how you want it," Fiers said.

Fiers started off his first spring outing by walking the first batter he faced, Odubel Herrera, on four straight balls. Fiers was able to strand the runner at second after inducing groundouts while working ahead in the count. He allowed a one-out single to Tommy Joseph in the second, but Fiers was able to strand that runner as well with a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.

"When he started off I was kind of like, 'Oof, how's he doing?' But then he got rolling just like I've always seen him do," Gardenhire said. "He gets out there and starts making that ball move all over the place. He figured it out really quick and it was a nice performance so I liked what I see."

All of Fiers' outs came on ground balls which was an added bonus for someone who has been primarily a fly-ball pitcher throughout his career. Fiers said home runs are going to happen and that he wasn't quite ready to become an extreme ground-ball pitcher just yet.

"Keeping the ball down is big, but also using my strengths which is up," Fiers said. "I've had a lot of success in this league throwing the ball up. Curveballs down, fastballs up and working every portion of the plate, out and in. Really just being me."

Scott Butherus is a contributor to MLB.com.

Detroit Tigers, Mike Fiers