A’s turn to Fiers to salvage series with Rays

Mike Fiers has been nothing short of spectacular since the Oakland Athletics acquired him from the Detroit Tigers in a waiver deal Aug. 6.

On Sunday, the veteran right-hander tries to put a stop to Oakland’s mini-skid when he goes against the Tampa Bay Rays in the finale of a three-game series at Tropicana Field.

By losing Saturday night, the A’s dropped their second tight decision in the last three games, which qualifies as a slump for one of the hottest teams in baseball.

They lost to the Rays, another hot team, meaning the series is on the line Sunday. But there’s more — a LOT more — at stake than just the series in this finale.

Saturday’s loss kept the A’s from getting back to within a half-game of the losing New York Yankees for home-field advantage in the wild-card game. It also dropped Oakland 3 1/2 games back of the first-place Houston Astros in the American League West.

In a game that featured the first matchup of “openers,” or relievers starting games worked by the bullpen, Oakland rallied for two runs in the seventh inning to pull into a 4-4 tie but then lost 7-5 – their fourth setback in six games against the Rays this season. Jake Bauers’ three-run homer was the winner.

Diego Castillo will again be the “opener” for the Rays on Sunday — after Saturday’s game saw Tampa Bay improve to 27-19 when starting a reliever.

The Rays, 19-5 in their last 24 games and 13-3 in their last 16 home games, kept their slight chances of catching the A’s for the second wild card as they are eight games out.

Fiers is 5-0 with a 2.72 ERA, has 42 strikeouts in 39 2/3 innings and has the opposition batting .208 against him in seven starts with the Athletics. He is 12-6 with a 3.29 ERA overall on the season, and comes in 1-1 with a 5.11 ERA in four career starts against the Rays.

He has a 7.31 ERA in three starts at the Trop and has not worked against Tampa Bay this season.

The A’s went to the “opener” because of Trevor Cahill’s back issue and may have to use the new system again Tuesday or Wednesday against the Los Angeles Angels.

They rallied to tie and had the bases loaded with one out in the eighth inning before a strike-three call on Marcus Semien kept the score tied. The rally went nowhere and manager Bob Melvin was ejected by umpire Larry Vanover after the inning.

“Obviously, I thought it was outside or I wouldn’t have been arguing like I did,” Melvin said. “It is what it is. … He’s trying to grind through that at-bat (nine pitches) and drive in a run, you get a call that’s not a strike and now you don’t have the advantage where we were.”

Bauers snapped a 5-for-63 slump with three hits and four RBIs.

Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash talked before the game about the use of the reliever in the first inning and said it has helped Castillo and Ryne Stanek.

“I don’t think going into it we put the greatest emphasis on the actual opener,” he said. “I think we’ve learned as the season has kind of evolved that that’s just as important, and it’s helped those guys’ psyche when they get on the mound. And hopefully it helps their psyche when they get on the mound in the seventh, eighth and ninth inning. Ryne and Diego both, they’ve gotten big outs in different roles.”‘

The San Francisco Chronicle reported Saturday that the A’s will not be welcomed back in Nashville, with speculation on a move of their Triple-A club to Las Vegas, soon to also be the home of the Raiders. Las Vegas finished an agreement with the New York Mets this month.