By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Anyway you look at it — by traditional baseball statistics or advanced sabermetrics — the decision to trade Doug Fister to the Tigers in the middle of the 2011 season was a mistake.
And if there were any lingering doubts, Fister gave the Mariners (6-9) a nice little reminder on a chilly Tuesday night at Safeco Field.
The lanky right-hander turned in a typical Fister performance, tossing seven innings, giving up two runs on four hits with a walk and five strikeouts in the Tigers’ 6-2 win.
He was everything Mariner fans might remember when he was here — fast, efficient — only better.
“He’s got that great downward angle, throwing that sinker down and away. I thought his changeup was better than I’ve seen it before,” Justin Smoak said. “He was always good when he was here. He’s a competitor. He was working fast. You just have to do things to get him out of his rhythm.”
The trade now seems absurd. Fister was sent to Detroit along with reliever David Pauley in exchange for pitchers Charlie Furbush and Chance Ruffin, outfielder Casper Wells and then-third base prospect Francisco Martinez.
Of the players Seattle got for Fister — only Furbush is contributing to the major league club. Wells was designated for assignment after failing to make the team. Ruffin — once thought to be a future closer — is trying to re-invent himself as a starter in Class AA. Martinez is his center fielder in Jackson after being converted to the outfield and never hitting as expected.
And Fister? He was 3-12 with a 3.33 earned run average when he was traded in 2011. Down the stretch for the Tigers that season, he went 8-1 with a 1.79 earned run average in 10 starts and one relief appearance, helping them reach the playoffs.
Last season, he posted a 10-10 record with a 3.45 ERA and helped the Tigers reach the World Series.
After Tuesday night, Fister improved to 3-0 with a 2.70 ERA in three starts.
“Fister was pretty good tonight,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “He does a great job of moving the ball around. He cuts it. He has the great sinker. … And tonight, he just threw the ball where he wanted to.”
Fister was perfect through three innings and cruising. He retired 10 consecutive Mariners before Kyle Seager hit a one-out double over the head of Austin Jackson in center field in the fourth inning. Kendrys Morales ended the shutout moments later, doubling to right-center. Michael Morse, back in the lineup after missing the past three games, scored Morales with a single up the middle. The Mariners had a 2-1 lead against Fister and were looking to get more.
Fister didn’t allow it. He got Raul Ibanez to pop out to shortstop, walked Justin Smoak and then got Kelly Shoppach to ground out.
That was the Mariners one and only chance against Fister. He retired nine of the next 10 hitters he faced.
“I felt pretty good,” Fister said. “I felt like I kept the ball down for the most part. I was able to throw my breaking stuff over. The biggest thing was defense. Those guys made some great plays.”
Meanwhile, his teammates — Miguel Cabrera specifically — made sure Fister was in line for the win. Cabrera, the reigning American League Most Valuable Player, put the Tigers up for good in the fifth inning. He reached out and drove a 2-2 fastball over the wall in right-center field for a two-run homer off Mariners starter Aaron Harang, who was making his 2013 debut.
“He did a great job of hitting that pitch,” Harang said. “We went back and looked and it was four or five inches off the plate. It should have been a ball. That proves why he’s as good as he is.”
Harang worked five innings, giving up the three runs on seven hits with a walk and five strikeouts. He threw 95 pitches, which was about his limit considering he hadn’t pitched in a game since spring training.
“I liked the way he used his fastball and as he worked in the game he got a better feel for his breaking ball,” Wedge said of Harang. “He’s a big-league pitcher and he knows how to get big-league hitters out. That’s a tough lineup over there and I thought he did a pretty good job.”
The Mariners bullpen couldn’t keep the game close.
Blake Beavan gave up an RBI single to Cabrera in the seventh, while Bobby LaFromboise and Yoervis Medina each walked in batters in the eighth inning to stretch the Tigers’ lead.
“We’ve got to get the offense going and loosen things up a little bit around here,” Wedge said. “You get a couple of guys going and you gain some momentum and it gives everyone some room to breathe and games aren’t so tight. We are going to be a pretty good offensive club, I believe that.”