If the Detroit Tigers are to live up to expectations and capture the American League Central, they’ll need to get solid starting pitching from more than Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer. The hard-throwing duo leads the club in wins — as they did last season — but they can‘t carry the entire load. Doug Fister, Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly need to consistently put their names in the Win column as well.
Jeff Jones, the Tigers pitching coach, gave scouting reports on the complementary threesome prior to Monday’s game at Fenway Park.
Jones on Doug Fister: “Doug is really a complete pitcher. He has a lot of different pitches that he can throw for strikes. He changes speeds, he has a lot of movement on his fastball, and he has an outstanding changeup. He can also cut the ball. I’ve always felt that anybody who can make the ball move both ways has an advantage, and he can do that. He throws a two-seamer one way and a cutter the other. Doug also has a very good curveball that he can get some strikeouts with. We’ve gotten him to use it a little bit more. I thought he didn’t use it enough when he first got here.
“Doug uses reports, but he also has a very good ability to read swings and see what hitters are trying to do. We’ll talk about some guys the day before he pitches, but on the day he pitches he likes to keep a clear mind and go out and just read the swings.
“He’s a pitcher more than an overpowering type of guy. Keeping the ball down is a big key for him. He’s got to be able to keep the ball down and use both sides of the plate. He usually does that, as well as work quickly and throw a lot of strikes.
“Since we’ve had Doug, he’s pitched very well. He’s [8-3] since we got him from Seattle, so we’ve stuck with basically the same plan since he got here.”
On Rick Porcello: “Rick is more of a sinker-slider guy. He has very good action on his fastball — very good sink on his fastball. His slider has gotten a lot better and he’s got more confidence in it. His changeup has also improved. That’s basically his repertoire. He’ll throw an occasional curveball, but he doesn’t use it as an out pitch. He uses it more as a change of pace, something that he can throw as a first pitch to a left-handed hitter for a strike.
“I think that he’s been a little bit inconsistent this year because of his location. He’s gotten some pitches up in the zone a little more than he has in the past. He was a lot better yesterday with his location. Normally, when a pitcher struggles, it’s because of location.
“Rick needs to work down, but that doesn’t mean he can’t work effectively up. We’re starting to do that more with him, especially against left-handed hitters. In the past, he’s basically gone away from the lefties, but now we’re trying to get him to use his four-seam fastball in to lefties.
“His off-speed stuff has gotten a lot better. When he first came into the league, he was a 20-year-old with one year of experience, and he relied basically on his sinker, because his off-speed stuff wasn’t refined. His off-speed stuff, right now, is better than it’s ever been.”
On Drew Smyly: “Drew is sinker, four-seam, curveball, cutter, changeup. His changeup has gotten a lot better. He hasn’t used it a whole lot in the past, because he hasn’t had to. We’ve spent a lot of time with his changeup and it has improved tremendously.
“Drew is a guy who has the ability to throw any pitch in any count. He’s not afraid to throw his breaking ball when he’s behind in the count. He’s not afraid to throw his cutter when he’s behind in the count. That’s been a big key to why he’s been successful so far. He’s wise beyond his years. He has the ability to pitch and move the ball around.
“He doesn’t seem to have any fears. Nothing seems to rattle him when he’s on the mound. If they hit some balls hard off of him, it doesn’t change the way he pitches. He doesn’t get frustrated.
“We looked at all of the guys in spring training and right from Day One he showed that he was going to be able to throw strikes with a number of different pitches. He’s gotten up here pretty quickly, but he has the ability to get major league hitters out if he can locate his pitches. It doesn’t really surprise me that Drew is having success up here.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.