HOUSTON -- Mike Fiers entered June with a seemingly tenuous hold on the fifth spot in the Astros' rotation. Four starts later, his job appears more secure.
The 31-year-old right-hander pitched 5 2/3 innings in Sunday's 6-0 win over the Reds, scattering four hits and one walk while improving his record to 5-3 with a 4.42 ERA.
"I think the key [for Fiers] is not creating his own damage, or his own drama, and that's been good for him this month," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "Today, he attacked them and went after them with a lot of first-pitch strikes and found himself with fewer baserunners."
Holding a 4-0 lead, Fiers exited in the sixth after a line drive from Jay Bruce ricocheted off his upper leg for a single, placing two runners on with two outs. But Chris Devenski was already warm in Houston's bullpen, and with Fiers at 90 pitches and in a tight spot, the move was not exclusively related to injury.
Indeed, rather than seek medical treatment, Fiers watched from the dugout as Devenski induced a flyout from Adam Duvall to extinguish the threat.
"I'm just glad it didn't hit me in the knee," Fiers said of Bruce's liner. "I'll be sore for a day or two, but I'll be fine.
"I thought my fastball command was where I needed it to be," Fiers said of his performance, which included five strikeouts. "My changeup and offspeed pitches were there at times. Basically, I was able to throw my fastballs where I wanted it to, and I was able to get [the Reds] to start swinging the bats."
Sunday's outing was the latest in a remarkable turnaround for Fiers, whose ERA had ballooned to 5.20 after a poor start May 27 in Anaheim. In that game, Fiers was tagged for eight hits and seven runs in 3 2/3 innings. Considering the stable of arms with starting experience in Houston's bullpen (Devenski, Scott Feldman, Michael Feliz), many wondered if Hinch might make a change.
But Fiers has steadily improved since that poor start, with his ERA falling by nearly a full run. In four June starts, Fiers has thrown 24 innings while surrendering just seven runs -- giving him an ERA of 2.63 on the month.
Of those four starts, two featured Evan Gattis as Fiers' batterymate. Following Sunday's win, Fiers was quick to credit Houston's newest catcher -- remember, Gattis had served exclusively as Houston's DH from April 2015 until last month -- for his quality work.
"I think Gattis does a great job," Fiers said Sunday. "He knows what works, and I was just trusting him. I think everything felt good."
The Astros acquired Fiers and center fielder Carlos Gomez at last July's non-waiver Trade Deadline, and he was a key cog in Houston's postseason push. In 10 appearances with the Astros in 2015, Fiers posted a 3.32 ERA in 62 1/3 innings -- including a no-hitter vs. the Dodgers.
Because of that, Fiers may have earned a longer leash. Hinch remained patient despite the early struggles, and now he and the Astros are reaping the rewards.
"There can be some traffic on the bases at times with Fiers, because he sprays the ball around a little bit," Hinch said. "But he can be effectively wild, because he also gets some swings that are on the border of the zone for strikeouts."