Two consecutive solid starts by Doug Fister may have taken some of the pressure off the Detroit Tigers to give up a prime prospect to get a rotation-stabilizing pitcher.
The Tigers don't have a bad rotation, but they have a two-tier goal this year -- win the AL Central and the World Series -- and what they have right now might not be enough.
Detroit wouldn't be ashamed to trot Justin Verlander out for the first or last games of a postseason series (or both), but through most of this year, the Tigers haven't had Nos. 2 and 3 starters to match the way Fister and Max Scherzer pitched right up until Texas pushed Detroit out in the AL Championship Series last year.
Scherzer was spotty up until late June, when he began to turn in dominating performances again. His first start after the All-Star break was mediocre, though, and he'll be trying to show Thursday that was just a fluke.
Rick Porcello has been Rick Porcello, occasionally poor, occasionally good and inevitably inconsistent.
Rookie Drew Smyly has been giving Detroit about as much as one could expect from a rookie second-year pro, and he's currently on the disabled list.
With the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline approaching, rumors are thicker than crows on road kill. Detroit is looking at this pitcher, the Tigers are hard after that pitcher.
Teams will ask for, but not get, Nick Castellanos. Jacob Turner, Andy Oliver or Casey Crosby might be in play, but common sense says Detroit would be loath to give up a prime pitching prospect for a starter who can become a free agent at the end of the season, a veteran at the end of his career or someone who wouldn't match up in the second or third game of a postseason series.
Fister fared well in postseason play last year despite not having a dominating fastball. He had not pitched like that this season -- until his last two starts.
In the first game after the All-Star break, Fister allowed one run in seven innings and struck out eight. In his second start, he fanned 10 and allowed just two hits and a run in eight innings Wednesday in the Tigers' 7-2 win over the Los Angeles Angels. A key in both: 10 of the 18 strikeouts were looking, meaning his ball had excellent movement.
If Scherzer can be the dominating pitcher he was before the All-Star break, it would mean Detroit doesn't have to go after a top-tier starter -- or it can wait until August to make a move.
"The key is going to be how well we pitch," manager Jim Leyland said. "I think we'll hit enough. That's my opinion. But when it's all said and done, the key is going to be how well we pitch."