Doug Fister believes in keeping things simple. The Detroit Tigers right-hander isn’t big on statistics, nor does he rely much on scouting reports. What he does do is play cat-and-mouse with opposing hitters: He changes speeds and pounds the bottom of the strike zone. He also gets results. Since coming to Detroit from Seattle at last year’s trade deadline, the 28-year-old Fresno State product has logged a 2.81 ERA and won 14 games.
Fister talked about his approach during a recent visit to Fenway Park.
Fister: “My approach is to stick with what I do. For me, it’s about knowing what my skills are and what my job is. My effort level is a big thing, but it’s mostly a matter of using the tools that I have to the best of my ability. I need to keep the ball down in the zone, have late movement on my fastball and try to get early contact.
“Things kind of clicked in 2009. I started out the year in Double-A and then quickly worked my way to Triple-A. I was in the bullpen at the time and it was just a matter of focusing on commanding the strike zone. Not just throwing strikes, but commanding the strike zone. Again, just working on getting bad contact.
“I had a few good pitching coaches, but really, it was me realizing who I am, and coming to terms with that. I’m the same pitcher now that I have been. There are obviously little things here and there that we fine-tune — you kind of tweak all the time — but for the most part, I’m the same guy. Nothing changed when I came to Detroit. It’s still a matter of going out there with my best stuff, keeping my ball down in the zone, and trusting my defense.
“What I throw is kind of dictated by how we read the hitters. I’m going back and forth with my catcher, and we’re going off our instincts. Scouting reports are something I don’t really pay attention to. We’re out there trusting our eyes. We trust what we see and feel.
“Reports don’t dictate what I do, because everything is changing all the time. It’s good information to have, but at the same time, you know what you do best; for me, that’s my thing. I know what I need to do to be successful, no matter who the hitter is or what he does. The simpler I keep things, the better off I am.
“I talk with my catchers all the time. We talk about what we’re trying to do and what we’re trying to stay with. If we see something we need to make an adjustment on, we’ll discuss that, too.
“I’ve probably been throwing somewhat more [curveballs and changeups]. I’ve been known to throw a lot of sinkers, and I’ve been known to stick with that game plan. Hitters make adjustments, so, as a pitcher, I have to make adjustments. It’s a constant game of cat-and-mouse.
“I’m constantly working on my pitches, fine-tuning to get them where I want them. I can’t really say that [my curveball or changeup] is better this year than last. Really, it’s day-to-day — and even pitch-to-pitch — as to how well you’re throwing a particular pitch. Today I have a changeup, tomorrow I don’t. It’s a matter of knowing what you have that day and what you need to work with.
“I don’t throw a slider anymore. I used to, early in my career, but it was taking away from the quality of my curveball. I went ahead and cut it out of my repertoire and just stayed with my guns. That was about two years ago. My curveball is probably my second-best pitch, and my slider was last, so I wasn’t going to hinder one of my top pitches just to have a slider.
“I do throw a cutter, which is just a little bit off my fastball. The cutter came naturally to me. It’s just one little twist to a ball, so I picked it up quickly. Now it’s just a matter of managing it.
“If I’m not evolving — if I’m not changing — I’m regressing. I’m always trying to find something new, and tweaking, and really just fine-tuning myself as a pitcher. I’m trying to be the best version of myself that I can be, whatever that may mean. If I find that what I’m doing isn’t working to the level that I want it to work, I always want to have an open mind when it comes to learning.
“It’s a constant battle to reach my full potential. Whether last year was it, or whether I have a bigger upside, I just want to be the best that I can be, right now. I don’t look at stats. For me, it’s a matter of going out there and making pitches. Maybe I’ll look at the results later, but my focus is on doing my job. I’m out there playing that cat-and-mouse game with the hitters, and right now it’s mostly going OK for me.”