By STEVE KORNACKISpecial to FOXSportsDetroit.com
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Doug Fister delivered in 2011 what the Detroit Tigers had hoped to get from Jarrod Washburn in 2009, and what they received from Doyle Alexander in 1987.
Fister was the trade deadline shot-in-the-arm to a contender that needed his 8-1 record and 1.79 ERA to win the Central Division title.
Now, with a new season about to begin, comes the tough part. Fister must live up to heightened expectations.
The key to repeating that success is knowing yourself, Fister said.
By adjusting and changing as situations dictate, he said.
Hitters adjust and so pitchers adjust, and those making the correct adjustments have the most success. Talent isnt enough in the major leagues, where scouts instantly find a hole in your swing or a pitch you are tipping.
Fister said he trusts his fellow pitchers and Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones while constantly talking the game and making those adjustments.
Detroit manager Jim Leyland said Fisters ability to repeat his delivery will be his greatest asset in having repeat success.
Fister is a guy who works fast, fields well and gets into a rhythm, Leyland said. Thats why its easier for him to repeat his delivery. He gets into a mode and its almost like hes on automatic.
He has the ability to locate the ball with consistent movement and throw strikes. Not just strikes, but quality strikes.
Fisters command was amazing with the Tigers last season. He walked five batters in 70 13 innings.
He was 3-12 with a 3.33 ERA for Seattle before coming to Detroit on July 30. The Tigers also got reliever David Pauley in the deal for four prospects: outfielder Casper Wells, pitchers Chance Ruffin and Charlie Furbush, and third baseman Francisco Martinez.
Pauley was released last week after getting off to a slow start this spring.
Fister is here for a while, though. He wont be a free agent until 2016.
We thought he would pitch well for us, Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski said. But what he did was a plus. He deepened our rotation to four deep.
We gave up a lot of young talent for him, and we would not have done that for a pitcher we didnt think would be with the Tigers for a long time.
Fister, 28, credits Jones with improving his delivery and providing insight into when to throw his curveball.
We got to keeping him back on the rubber longer, Jones said. He works quickly and was getting out too quick. Doing that gave him a more consistent delivery.
"And we talked him into using his curveball more. He didnt like to use it on hitters the first time through the lineup. And its such a good pitch for him -- a plus pitch in my book.
Said Fister: Its been about picking and choosing when is a good time to throw it. You want to get into a hitters head and have him thinking, Is it coming?
"Its not a great pitch for me, but its about having a different wrinkle and throwing off the hitters timing. Its about throwing different pitches at different speeds and forcing the hitter into bad contact.
Its about those crucial adjustments.
Justin (Verlander) might mention something Im doing and I will look at it, Fister said. All of us are always thinking to help each other out. You ask questions like, Why did you throw that pitch in that count to that guy?
When I came here, it was such a whirlwind of emotions and an exciting time. I thought, Lets be a team. I wanted to be a good teammate. And thats easy on this team. Its a great clubhouse to be part of with just some great guys. Were close-knit with the chemistry a good team has. We go out as a group.
He said fellow starter Rick Porcello and reliever Daniel Schlereth have become particularly good friends.
I like it here a lot, Fister said.
Fister ended up fourth in the American League with a 2.83 ERA and 1.5 walks per nine innings. He won seven straight games, had a 17-inning shutout streak, was voted the leagues pitcher of the month in September, and won the division-clincher Sept. 16 at Oakland.
The most exciting thing for me last season was to pitch that clinching game in front of family and friends, Fister said. They drove over a couple hours from Merced, and my dad (Larry) and younger brother, Jake, got into the celebration.
I think Jake even got a little champagne sprayed on him.
The Tigers won their first division title since 1987, when Alexander came over from Atlanta to go 9-0 with a 1.53 ERA. That was the year they lost John Smoltz for Alexander, but finished first.
Washburn also came from Seattle to Detroit in 2009, but never was healthy and crumbled while winning just one game. The Tigers also failed down the stretch as a result.
The key pitcher acquired for the stretch run can make all the difference.
But whereas Alexander turned 37 that year and went 20-29 for Detroit in his last two seasons, the Tigers have high hopes that Fister will become a fixture.
Oliver taking the fifth?
Left-hander Andy Oliver gets his first Grapefruit League start Wednesday against the Minnesota Twins, and has been the most impressive of the fifth-starter candidates that include Duane Below, Drew Smyly and Adam Wilk. Jacob Turner currently is out of the running with right shoulder tendinitis.
Oliver threw two more shutout innings Saturday against the St. Louis Cardinals, and has allowed just two hits in nine innings with six strikeouts and three walks.
Hes calmer, Leyland said. He ironed some things out in the (Arizona Fall League). Hes starting to slow things down. Hes much more poised and confident.
Leyland added that the current emphasis is getting him to trust throwing his fastball for strikes as much as he trusts throwing his slider for strikes.
Its going to be a real pressure cooker to find our fifth starter, Leyland added.
First baseman Prince Fielder had just one triple in the last two seasons, but drilled a triple into the right field corner Saturday to display his quick feet.
Hes much more athletic than I thought hed be, Leyland said. He runs well.
Fielder totaled 70 homers in his last two seasons, and his career .540 slugging percentage rivals the .555 of Detroit third baseman Miguel Cabrera.