After holding the Los Angeles Dodgers to one run over eight innings and striking out 14 in six innings against the Chicago Cubs, Mike Fiers’ latest challenge was one of the most potent offenses in baseball.
Fiers continued his impressive return to the big leagues by holding Toronto to just two hits over seven innings Tuesday, retiring the last 18 batters he faced in the Brewers’ 6-1 victory over the Blue Jays in front of a sellout crowd of 42,221 at Miller Park.
In all, Milwaukee’s pitchers retired 24 in a row to end the game and held Toronto to two hits, the first time the Blue Jays have failed to record at least three hits all season.
"He came and did the same thing; he attacked the zone," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said of Fiers. "This is a good fastball-hitting team, this is a good hitting team. He was able to locate that well and throw in enough breaking balls and change-ups to keep them off-balance. He keeps doing it. Hopefully it continues."
Fiers needed 18 pitches to work around a two-out walk in the first inning and ran into immediate trouble in the second. A bloop single from Dioner Navarro followed by a double to right by Colby Rasmus put runners at second and third with nobody out.
Rasmus would be the last batter to reach base for the Blue Jays, as Fiers retired the next three he faced in the second and worked five consecutive scoreless innings after that.
Milwaukee’s offense jumped out to an early lead Tuesday, using three first-inning doubles from Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy to take a 2-0 lead on Blue Jays starter J.A. Happ. Toronto did plate a run on an RBI groundout by Munenori Kawasaki with one out in the second, but the Brewers responded with two more doubles and a sac fly to build a 4-1 lead in the third.
The lead expanded to 6-1 in the fifth when Aramis Ramirez and Khris Davis hit back-to-back doubles and Rickie Weeks added an RBI single. Fiers, who needed 44 pitches to get through the first two innings, settled in and pitched with a lead, attacking the Toronto hitters.
"I wanted to be aggressive in the strike zone," Fiers said. "Every inning, I wanted to make them swing the bat. The first two innings I was erratic — I wasn’t spotting the ball up. I got out of the one tough inning when they had second and third and no outs; I had to make some pitches there.
"I didn’t want to get back to that situation, so I had to attack the first guy of the inning, attack that guy and then focus on the next guy. Maybe I was looking too far ahead in the game, but we were able to get up early and it made it easier for me to pitch with a lead."
In three starts since coming up from Triple-A Nashville to fill in for the injured Matt Garza, Fiers has allowed just two runs over 21 innings (0.86 ERA), winning all three contests.
With Garza out until at least the first week of September, Fiers is likely to make at least two more starts for the Brewers. Thus far, he’s eliminated the negative impact of one of Milwaukee’s top of the rotation arms being gone and been an important part of the Brewers remaining in first place.
"There’s definitely a lot more baseball," Fiers said. "I’ve just got to kind of put these behind me. Take the good from it, continue on and get ready for my next start. Take away what I’m doing right now and just build on it."
Following an impressive sweep of the Dodgers in Los Angeles this past weekend, the Brewers carried over the momentum by playing a complete game against a contending team Tuesday. A big reason Fiers and the bullpen were able to retire 24 in a row was the defense, as Aramis Ramirez and Jean Segura both made multiple fine plays in the field.
The offense scored six runs without the benefit of a home run, recording a season-high six doubles, two shy of the franchise record and the most the Brewers have had in a single game since 2010.
"That’s how you score runs," Roenicke said. "They were hitting the ball the other way, moving the runners, driving them in. Pretty classic way to score runs."
With the win, Milwaukee remained three games ahead of St. Louis in the National League Central, as the Cardinals rallied late to beat the Reds. Pittsburgh lost its seventh consecutive game Tuesday, meaning the Pirates are now seven games behind the Brewers.
"We’re all clicking right now," Lucroy said. "It started with the Dodgers series. We’ve got to win tomorrow and get a split (with the Blue Jays) on the season."