Fister approaches game with runner's mentality
Tall righty tosses on sneakers, takes to streets to clear head
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Here's the difference between Doug Fister and Doyle Alexander, the last Tigers trade acquisition that helped them win a division title: Fister is here for the long run.
That's not just a figure of speech with him. Fister is really about the long run.
When you're a 6-foot-8 man with an endurance kick, it's a relatively easy workout to put on a pair of running shoes and get going. For him, it's also a path to clarity.
When Fister was a Seattle Mariner, he'd be among the first to Safeco Field, hitting the road for a pregame jog around downtown or a run down to the waterfront. Sometimes, he would run the 1,800-meter span of Interstate 90, across Lake Washington from his Mercer Island home, into the city and back. Sometimes, he would run around cities while on road tips.
He's one of those athletes who can put on his shoes and go. But it's about more than that to him.
"There are different feelings about running and long distance, but I really enjoy it," he said, "so I kind of more put it into my workouts -- not even as a physical workout, more of a mental workout. It's kind of one of my releases from any stresses that may arise during the day. It's just some time to go out and clear my head. ...
"I put my iPod in my ears and I don't think about anybody else but myself. I sound selfish, but I just go out there. It's a stress reliever. It's a mind clearer. It doesn't matter how far I run. "
When last season ended, some friends talked him into taking it another step. Together, they ran a pair of half-marathons -- one in Fresno, Calif., where he went to school, the other at Big Sur on Monterey Bay. It wasn't about the results -- he completed both in just over two hours -- but what he called the "awesome" experience. He's one of the rare big leaguers to take the solitary experience of running and join a field of thousands to do it.
At his height, he's tough to miss as he chews up ground with each stride. But until recently, he has been more of an imposing figure than a famous one. An 8-1 record and a long-awaited division title in a baseball-crazed city may have changed that.
Fister came to Detroit last July as a solid pitcher from a bad team, not a star -- not Ubaldo Jimenez, the Rockies' All-Star who went to Cleveland around the same time. Fister was the guy opponents asked about after he'd held them down in a low-scoring game. The reaction from Tigers fans when he came back to Michigan for last month's winter caravan showed how much that had changed.
So much for being the best pitcher few had heard of.
"It's something to get used to," he said. "It's definitely an honor and a privilege to be able to have fans recognize you out of character, out of uniform, out of a hat. When that does happen, I try to take some time to say something to people, especially if it's a kid."
Of all the Tigers viewed with high expectations, Fister might have the loftiest to try to meet. Though Justin Verlander's season won him AL Cy Young and MVP honors, he has always had ace potential. Fister came in as a back-end starter and ended up following Verlander.
It wasn't just the success, but the way he went about it. Fister came to Detroit with a distance runner's efficiency -- early strikes, quick ground-ball outs and deep starts. He did all that, but he also struck out hitters at a rate he never enjoyed in Seattle.
When he toyed with Cleveland on Sept. 5, he needed just 101 pitches over eight innings, but 13 of his 24 outs came on strikeouts. Three weeks later, he fanned nine more Indians over eight scoreless innings.
That might be tough to duplicate, but it isn't his concern. As he discusses his goals, you can see the marathoner on the mound -- one nice, easy stride like the others leading to a goal, not a high-speed dash and a burnout.
"It's more of a mindset that starts right now," Fister said. "I'm going out there and I'm focusing on just being consistent. Today, I'm going to do the same things that I did yesterday and take care of business the same way."
His bullpen sessions here in camp reflect it. While Detroit's crop of young arms has made impressions, it was Fister's accuracy that caught Leyland's eye in his last session Wednesday.
"He does the one thing that we preach forever in this game, and preach long after I'm gone: Command your fastball," Leyland said. "He's really good at it. I mean, he was throwing, and wherever [the catcher] wanted to catch it, that's where he threw it."
Fister could cut it, move it either way, and he would hit the spot. That's consistency. If he can do that over the marathon of the season, he'll take that pace.
"I just know with myself: Did I make a quality pitch? Have I prepared myself the same way? Have I prepared myself enough each batter, each pitch, each day?" Fister said. "And if I can answer those questions, the other expectations, the other results will take care of themselves. At this time, if I take care of the little things, it seems to take care of me."