DETROIT — In his prior visits to Comerica Park as a native of nearby Waterford, Michigan, Paul Fry often caught himself paying more attention to the hitters than the pitchers. So naturally, his gaze regularly fell upon Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera.
The two-time American League MVP is not as feared as he once was, but Fry, now an Orioles left-handed reliever, approached with caution when he got the chance to face him Friday night, staying away from his fastball during their seventh-inning meeting. Fry threw Cabrera seven straight sliders, the last of which was buried in the dirt for a swinging third strike. It marked the second out of a perfect inning for Fry in his first career appearance against his hometown team as part of the Orioles’ 6-2 victory.
“It’s kind of surreal,” Fry said of the chance to pitch in Detroit. “It’s something I’ve dreamed of for a long time.”
Fry, 27, figures he’ll have at least 100 friends and family members in attendance over the course of the four-game series. That includes his wife, Paige, his high school sweetheart who is eight months pregnant with their first child. The Frys plan to name their son Forrest.
“[The name] was just kind of one that stuck out to us,” Fry said. “She loved it, so I had to say yes.”
The visit to Detroit comes at a good time for the Orioles, allowing them to face the only team with a worse record than them to perhaps jump start a strong end to the season. It’s even better timing for Fry and Paige, who is nearing the 36-week cutoff that will prevent her from flying while pregnant. She’ll be able to stay in the area and be around family until Forrest arrives.
Fry’s season as a father-to-be has had its challenges. Friday’s performance lowered his ERA to 4.96, the result of a rough period in which he allowed 12 earned runs in 10 2/3 innings across 15 outings in August and September. He ended July having given up only one run over a series of 11 appearances.
“He’s had such good stretches,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “There was a time there where that left-handed slider against left-handed hitters was unhittable, and now it’s just about being consistent. He’s just had a few rough outings.
“A lot of relievers go through that in the course of the year. I’ve tried to get him a little bit of a break, but you’ll see him back in there in leverage spots against left-handers. He does a nice job against right-handers, as well, when that slider plays and the two-seamer stays on the plate. It’s just about being consistent.”
Among left-handed pitchers who have ended at least 40 at-bats against right-handed batters with a slider, the .152 average against Fry’s is tied for the fourth lowest in baseball.
Through July, opposing left-handers were 3-for-37, an .081 average, against Fry’s slider, the best among all lefties. Since the start of August, they’re 9-for-16. Having a pregnant wife to return home to, though, has made it simple for Fry to leave his recent struggles at the park.
“It’s different, different in having someone else to worry about,” he said. “I think about her every day and what’s she’s going through. Now, it getting closer, it takes your mind off things a little bit when you get home, but you try to focus at the field and go from there.”
Fry seemed focused Friday, getting all three outs with his slider in a welcome return to form that came at home.
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“I’ve been struggling a little bit lately, but that’s just part of it,” Fry said. “I have to get myself back on track, and I think this is a good time to do it.”