MILWAUKEE — As it did in the first inning of the Milwaukee Brewers’ 7-3 loss on Friday night, Mike Fiers’ body language said it all after the game, surrounded by reporters asking about his tough start in the series opener against the Mets.
Visibly frustrated, Fiers’ shook his head and shrugged his shoulders as he talked about his start — a five-inning, four-run affair that opened poorly with two runs in both of the first two innings. After the first inning, he argued with the home plate umpire about the strike zone. And consistently, he looked back into the dugout, his body language communicating that his normal comfort level just wasn’t there.
He would take the first two innings back if he could, he repeated whenever asked about his struggles.
“You guys saw from the first inning,” Fiers said. “It just wasn’t there. I need to find a way to get started earlier in the game. I wish I could take this start and start in the third inning. … I just didn’t really know where the ball was going in that first inning.”
The Mets would need just those first two innings to take care of the Brewers, dealing one of baseball’s hottest teams its first loss at Miller Park in almost a month. And for Fiers, who has actually tailed off from his hot start to the season during the Brewers’ long stretch of success, tonight’s performance, like many of his recent performances, was especially frustrating.
Since putting together a 1.80 ERA through 13 games and 80 innings with the Brewers — a span in which he allowed just 16 total earned runs — Fiers had a 6.44 ERA in the six starts prior to his Friday tilt against the Mets. In that period, a span less than half as long as his success, he had allowed eight more earned runs (23 total).
As one of the Brewers’ top pitchers this season — one without any playoff or late-season experience — the pressure on Fiers for the rest of the season will be unlike any other pitcher in the Brewers rotation. He’s already proven how good he can be, and now, with something actually on the line, his expectations of himself and the expectations people have for him have grown exponentially.
You can see this in his body language, in the frustration that he internalizes after a start like Friday night’s. Even he couldn’t deny the pressure that has been levied on him as the Brewers continue to win their way into wildcard contention.
“There’s always pressure when you go out there and you trying to pitch well and show everyone that you belong here,” Fiers said. “With the playoffs right around the corner, we need to win as many games as possible, and sure, there’s a little bit of pressure there. There’s no excuse for me throwing the ball all over the place.”
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke has remained firm in his insistence of taking things one game at a time — it’s a strategy that put the Brewers back into playoff contention, after all. And after Friday’s tough loss, Roenicke kept the same sentiment in relation to the pressure on Fiers and the team’s other young pitchers to perform in a situation that’s becoming increasingly do-or-die with every passing game.
“I told you guys, nobody expects us to be in this thing, and I think we’ve played that way and that’s why we’ve gotten back in it,” Roenicke said. “If you start looking at every game where you have to win, I don’t think the young guys are going to do well with that. We haven’t gotten there.”
And on Friday, that pressure may have gotten to Fiers a little bit. He shrugged it off after acknowledging the pressure inherent with being a young guy trying to prove himself. But his body language said a lot, as he quickly turned back to what could have been.
“Every game is crucial,” Fiers said. He paused for a moment and sighed.
“It was a bad game. I started off bad. I wish I could take those first two innings back, but that’s how the game is.”