DETROIT -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland has repeatedly said that pitching will be the determining factor in how far Detroit can go this season. He's also said he's not fully sure what he has in his starting rotation outside of Justin Verlander. On Wednesday, a fully healthy Doug Fister reminded him.
Facing an Angels' lineup that scored 13 runs on 18 hits and five homers Tuesday, Fister retaliated with eight innings of two-hit, one-run ball as he recorded 10 strikeouts and the Tigers defeated the Angels, 7-2, in front of 37,915 at Comerica Park.
"When you consider who he's pitching against and what they did last night, I think it was really a well-needed effort for us, and we got it," Leyland said. "It was a very good effort. He looked like Fister."
The Fister that Leyland's referring to is the one who went 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA after being traded to Detroit at the Trade Deadline last season. It's also perhaps the one who had a 2.72 ERA through his first eight starts this year, despite a 1-4 record.
It's not the Fister who -- still recovering from a rib-cage injury that sidelined him twice -- allowed 23 runs in four games and 20 1/3 innings prior to the All-Star break.
"I wouldn't say [the disabled-list stints] hurt me, but obviously you're not as sharp as you should be. ... If you're not doing it," Fister said. "It's been something that we had to go through and get over, but now I think we're putting it behind us."
If his last two outings are any indication, he appears well on his way to finishing out another season strong. Fister is now 2-0 with a 1.20 ERA in two second-half starts. He's allowed five hits in 15 innings while striking out 18.
"He's getting his arm strength back, getting his command back and today made my job easy," catcher Gerald Laird said. "He was throwing everything for a strike, hitting his spots and getting a lot of weak ground balls and fly balls."
The Angels had one hit that was well-struck, and it came in the first inning. He K'd the first two batters of the game before leaving one up to Albert Pujols, who hit it 418 feet.
It was the only run the Angels scored off the right-hander and it proved to be the last time a baserunner would reach second.
He retired the next eight batters before walking Pujols in the fourth inning. Fister yielded a leadoff single to Alberto Callaspo in the sixth, but rebounded to sit down the final 11 hitters he faced.
"The last two months, we've been swinging the bats pretty well, and this is probably one of the best performances we've seen," outfielder Torii Hunter said.
Hunter said Fister's pitches had "crazy movement." So did Laird.
"His ball was moving all over the place today, but it was actually moving to where we were trying to locate it," Laird said. "He was on his game tonight. It was fun for me to catch."
Fister's 10 K's marked the second double-digit-strikeout performance of the 28-year-old's career. The last came with Detroit against Cleveland on Sept. 5, 2011.
It likely would have been a complete game, but he took a line drive off the chest in the seventh inning and it stiffened up while sitting on the bench in the eighth. Having already missed a lot of time, Leyland wasn't going to risk it.
"He was going back out for the ninth and at the last second they came down and told me. ... I couldn't take any chances," the skipper said.
At that point, the game was already in the bag. The Tigers pegged C.J. Wilson for seven runs on eight hits and five walks through six innings. It established a new season high in runs allowed for the Angels' lefty.
Delmon Young hit an RBI single in the first inning to tie the game and then the Tigers strung together four hits to plate four runs in the second.
Leyland was obviously happy with the hitting, especially after being questioned about starting Ryan Raburn, Danny Worth and Jhonny Peralta, who entered the day 1-for-14 with seven strikeouts vs. Wilson.
But for the skipper, it will always be about pitching.
"[It was] just a nice clean game, but dictated by pitching," he said. "And at the end of the day, that's what's going to decide everything. ... Good pitching tonight shut down a team that hit five home runs last night."
Good pitching tomorrow by Max Scherzer could also give the Tigers a series win against the second-best team in the Majors since the start of May. It could also set them up to take first place in the American League Central this weekend when the White Sox come to town.
Anthony Odoardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.