video thumbnail

Fister shuts out Mariners over seven frames

SEATTLE -- If anyone had earned the trust to babysit a ninth-inning lead for the Tigers, it was Octavio Dotel. So it stands to reason that manager Jim Leyland sat in his office with the look of a parent from one of those 1980s teen movies who comes home to find the remnants of a bad house party on his lawn and his car at the bottom of the pool.

Yes, he had the advantage of watching it all unfold. He could've pulled the plug at some point while what had been a shutout in the making unraveled into another loss to the Mariners, this one a 3-2 decision on Monday. But Dotel was the guy they signed to help provide another veteran presence in the bullpen.

Dotel has saved 108 games for eight teams over his 14-year Major League career. He was a full-time closer as recently as two years ago. He pitched 8 2/3 innings of four-hit ball with 10 strikeouts before giving up his first run this year.

He came in Monday and looked like a wild-eyed rookie.

"I was throwing all my pitches well in the bullpen," Dotel said. "Everything was good. Everything just wasn't where I want to be. I came into the game, and I can't find the strike zone."

Debate if you want the value of resting Joaquin Benoit after he pitched the previous two days, though there was no way closer Jose Valverde was going to pitch after three straight appearances and 55 pitches over the weekend. Leyland wasn't going to use either of them under any circumstances.

"I made up my mind I wasn't going to pitch those two big boys down there," Leyland said. "I wasn't going to get greedy."

He played the matchups and used Phil Coke to retire three straight left-handed hitters in the eighth inning. He had Ichiro Suzuki looming in the ninth, but Ichiro was 1-for-10 with five strikeouts lifetime off Dotel.

Under those circumstances, then: If not Dotel, then who?

"When you put it all together, here's a guy who was a big league closer, very effective at one time and obviously pitched in a World Series last year in big pressure situations," Leyland said. "For whatever reason tonight, he didn't throw strikes. That's part of the game. That happens. He wasn't trying to throw balls. He just had a hard time throwing the ball over the plate."

As a result, instead of recording a save for his ninth different club, Dotel has a blown save with eight. And the Tigers, who went 83-0 when leading after eight innings last season, have four losses in those same situations through 28 games this year.

They were 77-0 when leading after seven innings in 2011. They're 10-6 in those situations in 2012. They lost on a walk-off passed ball their last road trip, but that was a rookie reliever with a history of command problems. That had nothing on this.

In fairness, Leyland pointed out, the Tigers had chances to add on runs but couldn't, including a bases-loaded opportunity with two outs in the seventh as former Tigers reliever Charlie Furbush struggled to find the strike zone.

The Tigers went 3-for-8 with runners in scoring position, yet still left seven runners on base. They had a scorched liner up the middle from Miguel Cabrera turn into an inning-ending double play in the third inning when the ball hit off starter Blake Beavan's right elbow and ricocheted sharply to third baseman Kyle Seager.

They had games like that last year and pulled them out, even when their chances at holding onto the lead seemed slip. Games like this might just be the payback.

"I'm not upset with Octavio Dotel one bit," Leyland said. "I had to ask him to do something tonight that we don't ask him to do often on this club. I was shocked that he walked them. That was the killer."

Dotel missed the strike zone with 11 of his first 12 pitches. Not only did he walk .147-hitting Brendan Ryan on five pitches and Suzuki on four while falling to a 3-0 count to Jesus Montero, but a wild pitch and passed ball allowed both baserunners to move up.

Everything Dotel threw, he said, was darting inside against right-handed hitters, outside on lefties.

By the time the Mariners put a ball in play against him, they had the tying run 90 feet away. Montero's double off the center-field fence on a full-count pitch brought in Ichiro and set up the winning tally.

"That at-bat I was trying to get the right pitch," Montero said. "He was throwing ball, ball, ball, ball. You got to look for the right pitch, and thank God that I found that right pitch. It was good."

Duane Below replaced Dotel, but had little chance. Kyle Seager's sacrifice bunt moved pinch-runner Munenori Kawasaki to third, and Kawasaki came home on John Jaso's sacrifice fly.

The loss not only spoiled Doug Fister's return to Seattle to face the club that traded him last summer, but the way it happened -- low run support, late-inning lead squandered -- had to make him feel like he never left.

Fister hadn't faced Major League competition since his first start of the season, April 7 against the Red Sox, but he showed no rust in picking apart his old team for seven scoreless innings on four hits with no walks.

"He was fantastic today," catcher Alex Avila said. "It was a lot of fun to catch him. He threw great."

MLB.com Comments