DETROIT -- After Albert Pujols' first-inning home run, Tigers starter Doug Fister didn't allow another Angels hitter to reach second base in Wednesday's 7-2 win. Much of that can be credited to Fister simply missing bats -- he had 10 strikeouts -- but catcher Gerald Laird also made a few nice plays.
Laird threw out two baserunners, which is impressive considering the Tigers throw out only 23 percent of runners -- the third-worst mark in the American League -- and the Angels have swiped the second-most bags (72).
"I just try to do what I can back there," Laird said after the game. "I felt really good, [and] that's probably the best I felt throwing to second base tonight. I just felt like I was in rhythm, and [Fister] gave me a chance to throw guys out."
The first try came in the fourth inning, when Pujols walked in his second at-bat and took off for second on a pitch in the dirt. It bounced away from Laird, but the catcher picked it up and fired to second for the out.
The second was a botched hit-and-run attempt in the sixth. Howie Kendrick struck out on a full count, and Alberto Callaspo was easily caught stealing.
"I got one ball where I just kind of made a good play," Laird said. "I blocked it and was able to make a good throw and get him. ... Those are easy outs. Those are free outs for [Fister]."
Tigers manager Jim Leyland spoke prior to the game about the complicated process of catching a runner, which is much more complex than one might believe. There are a few aspects, but he said the most important was the pitcher's delivery to the plate.
The best pitcher, Leyland said, had a quick slide step and usually got the ball -- from the beginning of his windup to the catcher's glove -- in about 1.1 seconds. A slower pitcher had a time above 1.4.
The skipper used Fister as an example and said, because of his quick delivery, the Angels wouldn't be too active on the basepaths.
"He's like 1.1 home. If they steal a base tonight it will be totally because we made a bad throw or they missed a hit and run and they happened to make it," Leyland said Wednesday. "They won't steal tonight. They'll hit and run, but they won't steal."
Although there weren't many opportunities, it proved to be an accurate prediction.
When asked about how the best basestealers overcome a quick delivery, Leyland said: "The great basestealers usually don't go 1.1."
That might be why, despite the Tigers allowing the second-most steals in the AL (75), Fister hasn't allowed any, and only two have bothered to try.
Dirks not concerned about minor rehab setback
DETROIT -- Andy Dirks' recovery finally appeared to be heading in the right direction. After missing nearly two months with right Achilles' tendinitis, Dirks had begun baseball activities and hoped to start a rehab assignment sometime this week.
The Tigers outfielder is still hopeful he can start that rehab assignment soon, but following a workout Tuesday he reported soreness in the area and was temporarily shut down.
"It wasn't too good," said Tigers manager Jim Leyland when asked Thursday morning about the update he received on Dirks. "He was real good the day before, and then he came in yesterday sore. So we've backed off it a little bit again."
Leyland said Dirks has stopped doing any baseball-related activities. But Dirks sounded like he wouldn't be out for long.
"That's expected to be a little sore. I haven't done much on it," Dirks said. "That was the most I did on it, and I came in yesterday a little stiff."
The soreness didn't come as a surprise to Dirks, but it was a bit unexpected after he went through a week of workouts in Lakeland, Fla., without pain. However, Tuesday was admittedly the hardest he's pushed it.
Dirks met with the trainers in the morning and said rain hindered him from doing anything on the field, but he would "make something happen."
"They're not going to let me get out on the wet field," Dirks said. "So I'm going to go in and do stuff with [strength and conditioning coach] Javar [Gillette], and we'll make something happen today to see how it feels."
It's a minor setback, but a frustrating one for the 26-year-old Dirks, who was batting .328 before suffering the injury and being sent to the disabled list on May 31.
Leyland's said time and time again that it will require a good deal of at-bats in the Minors before Dirks is ready to return to the big league club. Dirks still isn't ruling out getting a few of those at-bats this weekend.
"It's still a possibility. It's definitely still a possibility," Dirks said. "It's getting better. But yesterday it's just a little sore. So why would we want to push it? It's already been two months. It's a little sore. Just go out there and keep running hard until it re-injures itself to what it was before? That doesn't make any sense."
Fister was set to finish off Wednesday's victory against the Angels, but after taking a line drive off the chest in the seventh inning, he stiffened up in the eighth and never went back out to the mound. It was enough to scare Leyland, but he was calmed following a talk with the right-hander Thursday morning.
"He's fine. I was just talking to him [and] he's a little sore, but he's all right," Leyland said. "I got nervous because [I thought] maybe it was the oblique thing, but it wasn't."
Drew Smyly, who remains sidelined with a right intercostal strain, will miss his second start Sunday. Leyland is still unsure if Smyly will need a brief rehab appearance, but he said it's looking more and more likely.
"I assume he'll probably have to go out to pitch somewhere, but I can't swear to that," Leyland said. "It's always a tough thing to decide: How long is a guy out before he can just come back here without going out?"
The Tigers have won nine of their last 11 games. Since June 27, they are batting .297 as a team with 32 doubles, 20 home runs and 100 runs scored. The team is second in the American League in average and hits (189) during that span and third in runs scored.
The Tigers' pitchers set a new first-half American League record in collective strikeouts before the All-Star break with 715. They are picking up where they left off in the second half. The team is up to 768 K's and owns a punchout rate of 8.45 per nine innings, the highest rate in club history.
Anthony Odoardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.