CHICAGO -- Right-hander Mike Fiers walked into the dugout after his first inning in a Tigers uniform with a one-run lead, but knowing he had to do better to protect it. He loaded the bases with one out by hitting one batter and walking another, and came within a pitch
CHICAGO -- Right-hander Mike Fiers walked into the dugout after his first inning in a Tigers uniform with a one-run lead, but knowing he had to do better to protect it. He loaded the bases with one out by hitting one batter and walking another, and came within a pitch of walking in a run after an 0-2 count before escaping that jam.
"I think I was just trying to make my pitches too nasty," Fiers said after the 1-0 win over the White Sox. "Just stay within myself, trust my pitches and just make everything look the same. I think early on, I was trying to make the changeup move a lot more, the fastball harder and the curveball break. Just a reminder to stay within myself and pitch, pitch to early contact and trust your stuff, trust the defense behind you."
Fiers changed. The score didn't. And as the Tigers walked out of Guaranteed Rate Field with their first three-game series sweep in Chicago since September 2011, and their first sweep over any opponent since beating the Sox in Detroit last June, Fiers had made a very good first impression with six scoreless innings.
After a rough finish to last season that left him out of the Astros' postseason rotation, then a rough Spring Training caused in part by a back issue that landed him on the disabled list, Fiers admitted he needed an outing like this.
"This is a big start," he said. "The way I ended last year, my last four or five starts, I wasn't the pitcher I am. I got to a place I couldn't get out of, and it's not good. A lot of pitchers have been there, but just to stay with it and trust your coaching … for it to pay off now is just awesome."
Fiers wasn't the only one needing this. A week after the Tigers (4-4) opened their season being swept by the Pirates at Comerica Park, they are at .500 for the first time since they were 29-29 on June 7, 2017. They went 35-69 the rest of the way, leading to the rebuild they're currently undertaking.
The Tigers' top prospects aren't here yet, and probably won't be this season. The talent they have now can still compete. They've won four of their last five games, and they brought the potential tying run to the plate in each of their four losses.
"We've been playing good ballgames as a team, and we're going to keep going forward, man," said Leonys Martin, who scored the only run in the first inning on a Jose Cabrera sacrifice fly. "That's what it's all about."
Fiers moved forward from his 24-pitch opening inning and attacked the White Sox talented young hitters with an unpredictable mix that made his upper-80s fastball more deceptive. He fanned Yolmer Sanchez and Yoan Moncada following Tim Anderson's one-out single in the second inning, then Fiers retired his final 11 batters in order after Avisail Garcia's leadoff single in the third. Fiers struck out six, all swinging, in as many innings, inducing seven swing-and-misses on his fastball despite registering 89.6 mph on his hardest pitch of the afternoon.
"He was throwing all the pitches for strikes," catcher John Hicks said. "We were able to add [velocity] with the fastball and then subtract with the changeup, and then subtract more with the curveball, and then add more with the cutter. We were in and out with all of it, and he just kept guys off-balance. The later the game went, we'd thrown so many changeups and curveballs to guys that his fastball was playing up. I mean, he was blowing it by people."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Passed over: The Tigers made a point to run the bases aggressively this series, and it paid off early on Sunday. Martin's first-inning stolen base was the club's sixth of the set, putting him in position to reach third base on a Welington Castillo passed ball. That left Cabrera needing a simple fly ball to drive in the run.
"We just try to get the extra 90, just figure out the right moment to run, who's hitting, try to get into scoring position. That's all," Martin said.
Doubled up: The White Sox put their leadoff batter on in the seventh and ninth innings, only to have both erased on double-play grounders. The latter was especially important, with Jose Iglesias and Dixon Machado teaming up to turn two on a Jose Abreu grounder after Garcia reached on a Jeimer Candelario error. Matt Davidson stepped to the plate with two out and bases empty against Shane Greene, who hung on for his second save.
"Winning a 1-0 game is tough. Play good defense, a sac fly, an unearned run, that's what it took to win this game. We're grinding out games, man. That's what I love about this team. We're playing hard from first pitch to last pitch. It's just a fun team to play with. We're having fun with it and playing the game hard." -- Fiers
"He winked." -- Former Tigers reliever Bruce Rondon, on striking out ex-teammate Cabrera to end the eighth inning
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Sunday's win marked the first time the Tigers won with two hits or fewer since July 11, 2004, when they beat Ron Gardenhire's Twins, 2-0, at the Metrodome. Jason Johnson threw a five-hitter to beat Johan Santana, and Eric Munson hit a two-run homer.
Left-hander Francisco Liriano will make his second start with the Tigers as they open a four-game series against the two-time defending American League Central champion Indians at 6:10 p.m. ET on Monday at Progressive Field. Liriano is hoping to build on his 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball in his season debut against the Royals.
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Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.