MILWAUKEE — With just three home runs given up in 82 innings before Saturday’s start against the Phillies, Michael Fiers had established himself as not only one of the best young pitchers in baseball this season, but also as one of the best, regardless of experience, at limiting long balls.
But in a fashion that fell in line with his last start — a 2.2-inning stinker that Fiers repeatedly called “terrible” to reporters after the game — the terrific Mike Fiers Brewers fans had been used to all season didn’t show up until midway through the second inning.
After walking two of his first three batters in the first inning, it was clear that Fiers was struggling with his off-speed pitches, allowing Phillies hitters to sit on fastballs in the zone. And against John Mayberry Jr. in the second inning, the Phillies outfielder promptly took one of those pitches deep for a two-run home run. Then, against the next batter, catcher Erik Kratz, Fiers’ struggles with his off-speed pitches again resulted in a home run — the first time he’s allowed back-to-back home runs in his major league career.
Fiers allowed just one run after the back-to-back long balls, but for the Brewers, who were plagued by a pair of baserunning mistakes later in the game, it was too little too late in the 4-3 loss.
“They were really just sitting on the fastball,” Fiers said. “On a day like this, when my off-speed stuff isn’t up to par, my fastball has to be commanded very well.”
But for the second straight start, Fiers wasn’t commanding much of anything very well, leading to questions of whether fatigue may be playing a part or whether Fiers may be experience the inevitable ups and downs of a rookie season, which he hadn’t had to deal with up until this point.
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke had talked briefly about the potential of Fiers’ innings being limited before, but when asked about whether Fiers’ workload resulted in him being tired on the mound in his last two sub-par starts, Roenicke wasn’t so sure.
“I don’t know,” Roenicke said. “He really hasn’t pitched more innings. In college he threw 150 innings his first year. He’s going to be a guy we’re going to talk about with innings, but I don’t necessarily see it as fatigue. I think he was just missing some spots, and then he turned around and threw the ball well.”
Fiers said after the game that he had heard rumors of a potential innings limit or limited work, but the organization hadn’t mentioned anything definitive to him yet.
“I feel like I could finish the season out strong, and that’s what I hope to do,” Fiers said.
Fiers had started the season stronger than any pitcher in baseball with an outstanding 1.80 ERA in his first 12 starts. Since then, however — after failing to last six innings in just one start — Fiers lasted a combined 7.2 innings in his previous two starts.
“It’s hard to tell (whether this is just rookie hiccups),” Roenicke said. “You’ve got good hitters and when you’re not on your game all the time, they don’t miss too many mistakes, especially when you’re not throwing your off-speed over the plate.”