Casey Fien's spring training wasn't what he had hoped, seeing that it included three home runs allowed in 11 innings. But his regular-season debut couldn't have gone much better.
The right-hander faced three batters on Monday, the top of the Tigers' order, and struck out all three. The only bad part, Fien said, was that he was trying to be economical with his pitches, but ended up throwing 17.
Not that he's complaining.
"I felt pretty good. I threw a lot of strikes, and that was the goal," said the 29-year-old Californian, who whiffed Austin Jackson (a former teammate in the Tigers' system) on a cut fastball that caught the corner, then got Torii Hunter to swing and miss at an 0-2 fastball.
Most impressive: He got into a nine-pitch battle with American League MVP Miguel Cabrera -- and won.
After getting ahead 0-2 with fastballs, Fien tried to get Cabrera to chase breaking pitches out of the strike zone. Cabrera took the worst of them, fouled off the others, and ran the count to 3-2.
That's when Fien went to a cut fastball, taking a little off of it. He was trying to hit the inside part of the plate -- but missed badly.
"It ran across the whole plate," Fien said with a surprised look. "I was trying to throw it in on his hip, and it just started running. He chased it -- that's what he's really good at, battling, hitting those pitches foul until he gets his. But he just missed it."
A couple of other observations from a game as intriguing (if slow) as it was chilly:
-- There was some irony in Justin Verlander's first victory in six Opening Day starts, considering Verlander is known for always going six innings. He even had a streak of 63 straight six-inning starts that lasted nearly two years until it was snapped last year.
But Verlander went only five innings Monday, the minimum for a win. He threw 91 pitches in those innings, and though he was cruising with a three-hit shutout, manager Jim Leyland wasn't going to allow his $180-million arm to throw more than 100 pitches in the 35-degree cold.
"That was a no-brainer," Leyland said of the decision to remove his ace. "If you let him start the next inning, he's really not a quick-out guy, and 100 was gonna be the max. So what, you're going to send him out for one more hitter? I didn't think that made sense, especially with a left-hander (Justin Morneau) coming up."
-- Fans wanted two runs to score on Drew Smyly's sixth-inning wild pitch, which ricocheted into the Tigers' dugout, but Twins manager Ron Gardenhire admitted that the umpires got the call right, allowing Trevor Plouffe (who had been on third base) to score but keeping Chris Parmelee (who was on second base) on third.
The decisive factor "is from when the guy releases the ball, not where [runners] are at when it goes in the dugout," Gardenhire said. "What do you want me to do, change the rules? I would love to."
No wonder. Pinch-hitter Wilkin Ramirez followed the wild pitch by grounding out, ending the Twins' threat.