LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- "Strike one." The beauty of those words has been impressed on the pitching staff of the Detroit Tigers."If you get strike one, you're in control of the at-bat. It gives you a lot of options to do whatever you want after that, so it's paramount.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- "Strike one." The beauty of those words has been impressed on the pitching staff of the Detroit Tigers.
"If you get strike one, you're in control of the at-bat. It gives you a lot of options to do whatever you want after that, so it's paramount. It's been a point of emphasis, for sure," left-hander Matthew Boyd said.
"You get that first-pitch strike, you're in the driver's seat and you're dictating what you want to throw," Opening Day starter Jordan Zimmermann said. "You have a lot more options when you get the first strike."
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The Tigers had some problems in that regard last season, with a 5.36 ERA and .282 batting average against, both highest in the Major Leagues.
New pitching coach Chris Bosio arrived last month with an urgency to get ahead in counts.
"He's brought it up multiple times," Zimmermann said. "He lets us know that it's an important pitch, and I think everybody here has known since we were little kids that it's the most important pitch in any at-bat."
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Francisco Liriano, who signed with the Tigers a month ago, arrived with a history of walk problems, having walked 53 batters in 97 innings last season, and 85 in 163 innings in 2016. That history was evident in the Tigers' 3-2 loss to the Braves on Wednesday night, when Liriano issued five walks across five innings of two-run ball.
"My main focus this year is to eliminate the walks and make something happen in three pitches or less," he said.
But the inability of getting that first pitch over goes beyond walks, according to Michael Fulmer.
"The statistics about starting a count 0-1 rather than 1-0, they're otherworldly," Fulmer said. "The difference is so big, and you can throw anything off that [0-1] pitch. Whereas if you get down 1-0, if you go with an off-speed pitch, you have to make sure it's a strike because you don't want to go to 2-0."
Batting averages across the Majors after a first-pitch ball are .272, compared to .226 after a first-pitch strike. For on-base percentages, the difference is even more pronounced -- .383 after a 1-0 count and .268 after a 0-1 count.
"You just feel better," Fulmer said. "Having a guy 0-1, you can try that backdoor slider or you can go sinker down or in off the plate. ... It opens up everything else, whereas with a ball-one count, you've got to throw a strike.
"And it saves pitch count. We've got to save our bullpen. Last year our bullpen was taxed quite a bit on a weekly basis. It's satisfying as a starting pitcher to try to give your bullpen a break every once in a while when you're out there."
Boyd said the first pitch has been the key to his success.
"When things aren't going good for me, that's usually the main problem. When a start doesn't go well that's usually why," he said. "It dictates the whole at-bat."
Spring Training provides pitchers with a natural way to learn that lesson.
"You get your pitch count going in, and you want to get as many outs as you can with that pitch count," Fulmer said. "The challenge as a pitcher is to see how fast you can get a guy out ... you want to get out of the inning with as few pitches as you can."
Dick Scanlon is a contributor to MLB.com and covered the Tigers on Wednesday.