After turbulent 2013, Fiers’ return to Brewers ‘special’

Mike Fiers, who had a terrible year on and off the field in 2013, was recalled by the Brewers this season after posting a 2.53 ERA with 92 strikeouts and nine walks in 67 2/3 innings over 11 starts in Triple-A.

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MILWAUKEE — For Mike Fiers, Sunday’s appearance against the Cincinnati Reds represented much more than just an ordinary outing out of the bullpen.

The date held significance, not only because it was Fiers’ 29th birthday, but Sunday marked the one-year anniversary of a line drive striking the right-hander in the right arm in a Triple-A game, ending what was a nightmarish season.

Since that date, Fiers lost his mother to a chronic illness and found himself buried on the pitching depth chart in Milwaukee’s organization. But after beginning the season in the minor leagues, Fiers has fought his way back for another crack at pitching in the majors.

"There’s always obstacles in everyone’s life, whether it be on the field or off the field," Fiers said. "You have to push through it. That’s the nature of the game. That’s what makes this so special.

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"I think everyone in here has been through times where people doubted them or had things they’ve had to go through to get here. It’s the element of putting it aside and pushing through it and being better than whatever it is and overcoming it."

Fiers took baseball by surprise by going 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA in 22 starts with the Brewers in 2012, including having a 1.80 ERA after his first 13 starts. He started Milwaukee’s fifth game of the season in 2013 despite a rough spring training, allowing six runs on nine hits in five innings in a 9-2 loss to Arizona.

Two outings out of the bullpen later and Fiers was sent to the minor leagues with an 8.59 ERA. Fiers was eventually reassigned to Class-A Brevard County to be closer to his ailing mother, Linda. The Brewers wanted to call Fiers up in May, but the right-hander hesitated because coming up to the big leagues forced him to leave Florida and join Milwaukee on Mother’s Day.

After receiving encouragement from his mother to accept promotion, Fiers struggled again and posted a 6.60 ERA over seven relief appearances and one start before being sent back down.  Less than two weeks later, Fiers’ season was over after the line drive fractured his right forearm.

"It was a rough year," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "But his spring training, I thought, was different this year. His spring training was better this year than I had seen him the two previous springs. Just, stuff was better. I don’t know if sometimes he’s a slow starter or not, but I liked what I saw this year.

"Hopefully he comes up here with that same confidence and is not only able to give us innings, but good quality innings."

Fiers began this season in Nashville’s rotation and came out of the gates firing, going 5-0 with a 0.80 ERA and 47 strikeouts in five starts over 33 2/3 innings. In 11 Triple-A starts, Fiers had a 2.53 ERA with just nine walks in 67 2/3 innings. His 92 strikeouts led minor-league baseball at the time he was called up to replace the injured Tyler Thornburg on the roster.

"I think it was just confidence in myself and having confidence knowing I can go out there and get it done," Fiers said. "Knowing I can get hitters out is the biggest thing for a pitcher, just to have the confidence of getting back up is the biggest thing."

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The confidence he had in himself to fight his way back to the big leagues was tested a great deal through the struggles, injury and personal loss Fiers went through last year.

"It definitely did (test his confidence)," Fiers said. There’s a lot of things that test everyone’s confidence. The better you are at not looking at it too deep and just playing baseball is really how you get over it to get where you want to go or where you have been before."

Although he was starting in Triple-A, Fiers is currently in a long- to middle-relief role with the Brewers. There’s always the possibility Fiers could return to Milwaukee’s rotation in place of struggling starter Marco Estrada, but top prospect Jimmy Nelson is likely to get the call to start prior to the 29-year-old.

"I wouldn’t say too much (changes)," Fiers said. "Yeah, the routine of it is different, but on the field it is the same. You have to throw strikes, change speeds and keep hitters off balance to get off the field as quick as possible."

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