Detroit Tigers add new pieces in hopes of winning World Series

jdill@bradenton.comMarch 24, 2012 

BRADENTON -- They made a shrewd move to pair an unlucky pitcher with a Cy Young Award winner during last year's playoff run.

They made a splash when they secured the services of a power-hitting first baseman for an already-potent offense.

Those reasons are part of why the Detroit Tigers are favorites to end a 30-year drought and win the World Series.

The club made the trek down to Bradenton on Friday to play the Pittsburgh Pirates in front of a sold-out crowd at McKechnie Field.

And even though some core regulars didn't make the trip, fans witnessed a ball club

beaming with confidence.

"High expectations means you have a good ball club," catcher Gerald Laird said. "There's nothing wrong that, but for the most part it's a tough game. And we've just got to do what we're capable of doing. If we pitch, and we play defense and we hit like we're capable of doing, at the end of the year we're going to be where we want. We need to execute."

The pressure that comes with high expectations, though, doesn't seem to get to the team as it prepares for Opening Day less than two weeks away.

The reason for that is how close Detroit came to making its second Fall Classic appearance over the past six years last season.

The Tigers lost in the American League Championship Series 4-2 at the hands of the Texas Rangers.

So the response to losing the AL pennant was simple: Detroit went out and signed a big name in the free-agent market.

The Tigers brought in Prince Fielder, whose father, Cecil Fielder, made his name at the old Tiger Stadium, for a cool $214 million over nine years.

Last season, the young Fielder demonstrated the offensive numbers to warrant such a gaudy deal when he banged 38 home runs and had 120 RBIs to go with a .566 slugging percentage for the Milwaukee Brewers.

In fact, Fielder only hit fewer than 30 home runs in one full season with Milwaukee -- his rookie year in 2006.

But the sheer numbers aren't the only department in which Fielder helps the Tigers.

He also adds protection in the heart of the order. And, aside from slugger Miguel Cabrera, that's something that helps other bats, like Ryan Raburn's.

The former University of South Florida standout is torching Grapefruit League pitchers this spring. He leads all major league players with six home runs.

"Having guys like Prince can make you take the pressure off a lot of other guys," Laird said. "You could put guys in different spots to where they could have more success. ... Raburn's just got to be Raburn and not try too much."

Fielder isn't the only piece to Detroit's puzzle.

Last year, eventual Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander found a complementary starter in the rotation when the Tigers traded for Doug Fister.

Fister excelled after leaving Seattle for Detroit's Comerica Park.

The new scenery led to eight victories, a 1.79 earned-run average and just five walks in 701/3 innings pitched. Fister only had three wins despite a solid 3.33 ERA with the Mariners in the first part of 2011.

"It was massive," said closer Jose Valverde, who notched 49 saves last year, about Fister's addition. "This guy works quick. This is the guy that throws five innings in like 45 minutes. ... When you have Fister on the mound, all the guys in the bullpen have to be ready."

Fister was forced to leave Friday's game in the fifth inning due to soreness in his right middle finger, but he is day to day.

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