Tigers-Astros Preview

The Associated Press

Despite dealing with some wildness, Doug Fister is off to the best start of his career.

The undefeated right-hander looks for a fifth victory Friday night while trying to help the visiting Tigers hand the lowly Houston Astros a fourth consecutive loss.

Facing Houston for the first time, Fister (4-0, 2.38 ERA) fared much better this April than last year when a rib injury limited to one start during the month. Healthy and confident, Fister allowed nine earned runs and one homer in 34 innings of his first five 2013 outings.

He gave up three runs and struck out a season-high eight in seven innings of an 8-3 win over Atlanta on Sunday in his 100th career start.

However, Fister leads the majors with eight hit batters - twice as many as any other pitcher. Teammate Justin Verlander in 2007 and Frank Lary in 1960 each hit 19 in a season to share the team's post-World War II record.

Fister insists he's not trying to purposely plunk anybody despite hitting 35 batters since breaking into the majors in 2009.

"Unfortunately, I think it's more mechanics for me," he told the Tigers' official website. "Not staying back at times, my arm kind of drags and the sinker gets away from me. For me, it's never intentional to hit a guy. I'm looking over and making sure that they know that it's not intentional.

"Yes, I'm trying to go inside and trying to keep the sinker down and in. But by no means is it ever intentional."

Houston (8-21) batters have been hit nine times, but lead the majors with 294 strikeouts. The Astros and Tigers each fanned 18 times in Detroit's 7-3, 14-inning win Thursday.

Tigers pitchers have recorded a major league-high 281 strikeouts, and 10 or more in seven straight games.

Don Kelly had the go-ahead single in the 14th and Austin Jackson added three hits Thursday as Detroit (16-11) snapped a four-game road skid by winning for the sixth time in seven overall.

"To keep battling and come out with a win is just awesome," said Kelly, who did not start but went 2 for 3. "Games like this, you try to find a way win and keep grinding it out."

Jackson is batting .344 (11 for 32) during an eight-game hitting streak.

Teammate Miguel Cabrera added two more hits, including his 1,000th as a Tiger, to raise his average to .373.

Houston's Bud Norris (3-3, 4.20) makes his first start against the Tigers when he takes the mound.

Plagued by inconsistency, Norris has a 1.53 ERA in the games he's won and an 8.03 ERA in those losses. After he gave up one run in five innings of a 3-2 win over Seattle on April 23, the right-hander yielded five - three earned - in six innings of a 6-1 loss at Boston on Sunday.

Ex-Tiger Carlos Pena homered and had two of the six hits for Houston, which has dropped seven of eight. Pena has gone 9 for 20 in five games to raise his average from .188 to .240.

He's 0 for 6 versus Fister.

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