Looking at his name, I would certainly think it’s pronounced more like “fears,” but it’s actually pronounced “fires.” Infinitely cooler, and certainly appropriate for his immensely successful rookie campaign.
With a Brewers starting rotation dealing with an early season-ending injury to Chris Narveson, then Marco Estrada pulling his quad rounding first, Michael Fiers, the Brewers 2011 minor league pitcher of the year, finally got his call up after an inconsistent stint to start his 2012 campaign in AAA.
The Brewers got more than they ever expected from the 27-year-old rookie, with a 2.31 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 50 Ks through 46.2 innings. If Fiers keeps up that pace through the second half of the season, he’d be the Brewers best pitcher, and a fantasy gold mine.
Falling under the radar behind the big prospect types (a severe car accident caused him to miss an entire season in college – this is a very well-written article about the event and his recovery), fantasy owners have been slow on the uptake in regards to picking him up. But peripheral numbers (.310 BABIP and a 2.05 FIP) suggest this isn’t entirely a fluke.
So I decided to watch Fiers’ start last night against the Cardinals to see how he looks pitch-by-pitch and what we can expect from him the rest of the way.
First Inning: Fiers’ first pitch is an 88-MPH fastball for strike one. Fiers pitches in the high-80s and hits 90 a few times, relying on a deceptive delivery and a great change and curveball. The second pitch is a changeup low and then the next is lined into center where Carlos Gomez makes a great catch coming in. Gomez is such an impressive defender. Skip Schumaker flares an 0-1 pitch opposite field, where it barely drops in fair territory for a bloop single. Schumaker didn’t even run at first, thinking it was foul or an easy out. Tough hit given up there. Fiers falls behind 1-0 to Matt Holliday, and gets a nice 89-MPH fastball on the outer edge fouled off, 1-1. Fiers again goes with the fastball and it’s swung through and missed, 1-2. After one is fouled back, Fiers goes with that plus curveball that’s barely laid off of, 2-2. If he can keep that pitch low and breaking to the dirt, it’s going to be another good outing. The next pitch is a high fastball that Holliday seemed to get too far under, but it carries to the warning track and is an out nonetheless, two down. Fiers starts Allen Craig with a curveball sweeping through the zone and low, 1-0. A ton of movement on that pitch at 70-MPH. Fiers is right back there with the 89-MPH fastball for a strike. Great mix of speeds. The next fastball is outside, then one is fouled off, 2-2. The next pitch is an incredible curveball starting at the eyes and dipping in the zone, but it’s called a ball, full count. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke, along with the Milwaukee crowd, really gave umpire Bob Davidson an earful on that one. Fiers again goes to the same spot with a curveball, and it’s again a ball for a walk. Fiers falls behind 1-0 on Yadier Molina, but the next pitch is a broken bat lazy grounder to short to end the inning.
Second Inning: After a bottom of the first that saw both Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez let their feelings known after striking out on borderline calls, let’s see how consistent Bob Davidson’s zone is for Fiers. His first pitch of the second is a curveball way outside; then the next fouled is off, 1-1. Fiers then gets an 88-MPH high fastball right through the swing of David Freese, but the next one is hit hard just out of the reach of shortstop Cody Ransom for a leadoff single. The first pitch to Matt Carpenter is lined just in front of the warning track to right, one down. Fiers then goes inside to start Daniel Descalso, then goes low, falling behind 2-0. The next pitch is popped out in the infield, and Fiers now can get out of the inning easily with Lance Lynn up. Fiers is right there in the zone at 87-MPH with the fastball, then a 89-MPH heater gets him swinging through it, and Fiers has his first K with Lynn looking. Fiers easily works around the leadoff single.
Third Inning: The first pitch of the third is flied to right by Furcal for a quick out. Fiers gets ahead 0-1, then the 1-1 pitch is a perfect hook in there, 1-2. The next pitch is a perfectly placed fastball on the outer edge and Schumaker weakly grounds out to short, two down. Fiers falls behind Holliday 1-0, then the next fastball is fouled back, followed by a fastball left over the plate that is swung through and missed, 1-2. Fiers goes inside and tight on Holliday with a nasty fastball, and Holliday can’t hold his swing for Fiers’ second K and his first one, two, three inning on nine pitches.
Fourth Inning: Still a 0-0 game, Fiers begins the fourth with a fastball fouled off the fists, 0-1 on Craig. After missing high with a curve, Craig pops out past first in foul ground and Corey Hart makes a great sliding catch, one down. After missing inside, one is fouled, then Fiers blasts an 89-MPH fastball by a swinging Molina, 1-2. However, the next pitch is driven the opposite field for a double. If hitters can square on that fastball, they can handle it. Fiers starts David Freese with a curveball way outside, 1-0. The last few curves from Fiers have been way off, let’s hope he hasn’t lost that pitch. And, it’s like Fiers is listening to my keystrokes, as the next pitch is another curve on the outside corner for a strike, 1-1. Fiers goes outside with a fastball then again tries the outer edge and misses, 3-1. Gut check time. Fiers again goes to the curve and gets the strike call pretty far off the outer edge. At least Davidson is calling it even. Fiers again tries to go with the curve, but it goes way outside and in the dirt for ball four. Fiers had no confidence with the heater against Freese there on a full count. He starts Carpenter with a fastball inside for a strike, then gets him to foul one back, 0-2. Fiers goes with the change that’s low, 1-2, then goes too far inside with a curve, 2-2. The next pitch is a fastball hit off the fists for a flyout to center and Molina is able to tag to third for runners at first and third with two down. Big early test here for Fiers versus Descalso. The first pitch is a curveball on the inner edge, 0-1. Fiers misses with a fastball, then goes with a change that’s flared foul just out of the reach of Aramis Ramirez, 1-2. Fiers again goes with that inside curve and it’s tapped weakly toward the mound. Fiers makes the play at first, inning over.
Fifth Inning: Still a scoreless game with Lance Lynn pitching tremendously for the Cards, Fiers starts the fifth with an 86-MPH fastball to the Cardinal’s starter. Fiers is outside, then in the zone with more fastballs, and the 1-2 is a change that barely dips low, 2-2. That change has some nice break on it –- he hasn’t thrown it much this game and I wonder if he’ll go to it the third time through. Fiers misses low with a fastball for a full count, but gets the payoff pitch in there for his third K. Fiers again goes to that inside curveball that barely misses inside on Furcal, but is right back in the zone with the heater, 1-1. Fiers indeed goes with the change, but it dips barely low, 2-1. The next fastball is a shade low, and it’s 3-1 with the next fastball ripped foul, full count. Fiers gets a fastball up and in on the hands of Furcal and he fists it for an infield flare out to third, two down. Fiers starts Schumaker with the curve outside, 1-0, then goes fastball on the outer edge, swung through and missed. Even though he doesn’t ramp up the speed, Fiers does get swings and misses on that fastball with a great mix of speeds and his slightly off-kilter, over-the-top delivery. Fiers then misses on three straight pitches and walks him. Three straight three-ball counts for Fiers as he may be slightly struggling with his command. He gets Holliday to swing and miss on a fastball on the outer edge, then gets him to foul one back, 0-2. Holliday is swinging a hot bat, but Fiers is giving him fits. Fiers stays with the fastball and gets Holliday to fly out weakly to center to end the inning.
Sixth Inning: The game still without a run scored, Fiers opens the sixth with a fastball sailing very high to Craig, 1-0. Fiers is right back in the zone with the heater and it’s fouled back, 1-1. Back to the curveball, and Fiers finds the outer edge, 1-2. Fiers goes back to the heater and it’s roped the opposite way and caught by Hart at first, one down. Fiers starts Molina with a curve down the middle, but Molina flies out weakly to left, two down quickly. Again, Fiers goes with the curve that stays high, 1-0. Another curve is low, 2-0. Tons of curveballs from Fiers today – it’s got a consistent break and he has gotten a lot of them in there for strikes. With their speed about 20 MPH slower than the heater, it’s a great complement of pitches. And Fiers goes back to back with heaters for strikes to get back in the count, 2-2. After one is fouled off, Fiers misses the zone and the payoff pitch is a change up that stays high for a two-out walk. But it’s quickly erased by a first pitch flyout to left off the bat of Carpenter – another scoreless inning.
Seventh Inning: With the scoreless pitching duel continuing, Fiers hopes to continue his shutout bid with a curve just off the plate to Descalso, 1-0. Fiers then gets a fastball in, eventually working it to 2-2. One is fouled off, then Fiers misses inside with the heater, full count. Another fastball is spoiled, then a high change-up and ball four is swung on and fouled off. Then a heater is roped to right and Nori Aoki is caught in-between and decides to take it on a hop for a single. Fiers goes high and tight to start Lynn showing bunt, but the next two are bunted foul, putting two strikes on the bunter. And Fiers is again in the zone and gets Lynn to bunt through the pitch for another K, his fourth. Fiers starts Furcal with a curveball dropping into the zone that’s grounded up the middle. Fiers knocks it down and throws out Furcal, but could’ve let that go through for a possible double play. Fiers is angry with himself for touching the ball, but I don’t blame him for making the play himself. Fiers again goes with a first pitch curve for strike one, and throws an even better one in the zone, 0-2. Man, those curveballs are legit. Fiers tries to ramp up a fastball, but it’s too far outside, 1-2. That one hit 91, about as hard as he’ll throw. Fiers goes right back to the curve and it’s flied out weakly right to Ryan Braun, inning over, as is Fiers’ superb outing that ends with a tough luck no decision after another Axford blown save.
Final Line: ND 112 Pitches (69 Strikes)
4 Hits 4 Walks 0 Runs 4 Ks
Final Analysis: Another spectacular start from Michael Fiers, who has probably found his way onto most fantasy rosters, and if he hasn’t in your league yet, he needs to be owned immediately.
While the four walks are a little disconcerting, Fiers scattered them throughout and was nibbling the zone throughout the outing. Also, his 112 pitches shows the Brewers are not handling him with the young gun prospect gloves (he is 27 and has a lot of minor league innings behind him) and will let him pitch deep into games.
With a tremendous curveball that Fiers could consistently throw for strikes early in the count, mixed with a deceptively sneaky fastball a tick below 90-MPH and a solid change (that he didn’t use too frequently this outing), Fiers has the ability to change speeds and pound the zone with the effectiveness of a quality fantasy starter. The strikeouts weren’t there last night, but the Cardinals were only able to get one extra base hit and struggled to get solid contact all night.
A great pitcher on virtually no one’s radar to start the year, Michael Fiers is a pretty surefire set-it and forget-it pitcher right now. Ride the rookie’s streak while you can and gloat that you beat your league mates to the wire.