Fien makes solid first impression
Recently recalled reliever clicks in first big league action
ARLINGTON -- Sometimes what makes young relievers fearless in jams is that they don't grasp the magnitude of the situation. Casey Fien will plead guilty on that one.
He knew he was on national television as he jogged in from the bullpen for his Major League debut Sunday night. But he didn't notice the runners at every base and the slugger at the plate.
"At first, I really didn't even notice the bases were loaded until I started running out there," Fien said. "And then I go, 'Third ... second ... and first. Bases loaded. All right.' Because I was more focused on what I was doing in the 'pen, what my pitches were doing. ...
"I started running out there. I started getting ready. And then I look on deck, and there's Paul Konerko. And I was like, 'All right, let's do this.' It didn't bother me too much. I was more anxious than anything."
Manager Jim Leyland said he obviously didn't want to use Fien in that situation. His plan was to have Zach Miner finish out the seventh inning, then have Fien start the eighth. Back-to-back two-out walks from Miner changed those plans.
Leyland was not happy with Miner about that. But he also got to learn a little bit in that situation about Fien, who made an impression on Leyland in 2008's Spring Training with his ability to consistently throw strikes.
Understandably, he wasn't that efficient starting out," Leyland said. "He missed on his first three pitches -- first outside, then high, then inside -- to come within a pitch of walking in a run.
"They weren't going where I wanted them to," Fien said of his pitches, "but I was still around the strike zone enough where I could get my calls later on. And I wasn't missing way off. I was keeping it around the plate. He wasn't chasing anything, obviously, because he's probably just sitting middle in.
"Once it was 3-0, I was like, 'Here comes a cookie for you.'"
Konerko took the fastball down the middle for strike one. Then came another fastball, this one hitting the outside corner, for a full count. After Konerko fouled off a low fastball, possibly ball four, Fien challenged him and escaped with a popup in foul territory to third baseman Brandon Inge.
Fien was still excited retelling the story a day later.
"I was like, 'Yes,'" Fien said with a smile. "This is what you called me up for, right? I'm supposed to be the strike thrower, so I have to produce."
After walking A.J. Pierzynski to lead off the eighth, Fien settled in to retire Chicago's final five batters, including strikeouts of Carlos Quentin and Scott Podsednik. With that, Fien had finished his Major League debut with 2 1/3 scoreless innings and a huge charge.
"He's hyper," Leyland said. "He's gung-ho. He's not afraid, right now. He might be when they hit one over the moon."
Asked if the adrenaline from the Konerko out carried over into his other two innings, Fien said, "It was more a sense of relief."
Fien feels a sense of responsibility for being a strike-thrower. But his big step this year was learning the difference in quality strikes, pounding the corners. For that, he credits two weeks of work with Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens pitching coach A.J. Sager and a 45-minute talk he had with Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish, who gave him the hitter's view of his stuff.
Fien had struggled trying to put a few extra miles per hour on his fastball, but Parrish bluntly told him his velocity won't matter without location. Since then, Fien focused on hitting the corners and avoiding the heart of the plate. The results were seven scoreless innings with the Hens before he got the call to Detroit after Friday's doubleheader.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.