Fiers 'happy' with six-inning '21 debut vs. O's

May 1st, 2021

OAKLAND -- For a guy making his first start back from injury, didn’t look like he had much rust to shake off.

The 2021 debut of Fiers looked much like the body of work the A’s have grown used to watching him turn in over the past few years. Nothing too fancy, just a consistent ability to keep his team in the ballgame with quality starts. But on a night where Oakland’s slumping offense was baffled by Baltimore lefty John Means for most of the night, a solid outing by Fiers was not enough in Friday’s 3-2 loss to the Orioles.

A’s hitters returned to the Coliseum already searching for a remedy to the woes that plagued them on their recent seven-game road trip in which they hit .196 and averaged just 2.7 runs per game. Those issues were only exacerbated against Means, who was responsible for ending the A’s historic 13-game winning streak by tossing a gem against them at Camden Yards just five days prior.

Sean Murphy and Mitch Moreland managed to put a dent in Means’ final line with a pair of solo homers, but the left-hander kept the A’s offense down for the most part over seven innings, allowing two runs on three hits with nine strikeouts.

“He threw a few more changeups today,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “Last time, the high fastball set up the changeup. This time, he threw more changeups and then his fastball."

Means is making most managers around baseball echo similar sentiments this season. The 28-year-old lefty continues to emerge as one of the top pitchers in the league, improving to 3-0 with a 1.70 ERA in six starts after Friday.

“He’s good,” Melvin said. “You’re going to have to try to hold them down and hope you can get him out of the game and score off the bullpen.”

The A’s made their attempt at a comeback against that bullpen twice in the late innings. Drawing a walk in the eighth, Tony Kemp stole second base and took third on a passed ball before he was stranded as the tying run. 

Leading the Majors with three walk-off victories this season, the A’s took their shot at a fourth with a promising ninth-inning rally that began with Murphy and Matt Chapman leading off with back-to-back singles off Orioles closer César Valdez. But three straight outs, including a sharp lineout to third by Moreland that was smoked 104.4 mph off the bat, ended the contest with the A’s stranding runners at the corners.

“You go up against a good pitcher, it’s going to be tough to score runs,” Melvin said. “It’s going to be about getting a big hit or two late in the game. Typically, at home, we end up doing that. We just didn’t today.”

Fiers -- who made four starts at the A’s alternate site in Stockton prior to Friday’s outing -- was dialed in early, needing just nine pitches to get through a scoreless first inning. His only real hiccup came in the third, when he issued back-to-back solo homers to Cedric Mullins and Austin Hays to turn what was a 1-0 lead into a 2-1 deficit in the span of six pitches.

Though Fiers chalked up the homer allowed to Hays as a missed-location changeup that he intended to throw below the zone, he was pleased with the location of his cutter to Mullins. The pitch ran well inside and off the plate, yet Mullins -- who entered the day tied for the Major League lead with 33 hits -- somehow pulled his hands in and drove it over the wall in right.

“Hats off to Mullins,” Fiers said. “He’s coming out of the gate hot here in ‘21. To get enough of it to get it out and also keep it fair was insane.”

The pair of homers aside, it was an encouraging first outing for Fiers. Much like his run with the A’s from 2018-2020 that saw him go 26-9 with a 4.00 ERA in 53 starts, there was nothing flashy about the 35-year-old righty’s stuff. Working with a sinker that maxed out at 88.9 mph, he increased its effectiveness by elevating it while mixing speeds with his secondary pitches.

Pounding the strike zone with 54 of his 83 pitches going for strikes, Fiers allowed three runs on six hits and two walks while striking out three in six innings. He continued what has been a strong run by A’s starting pitchers, who over the last 18 games are now 10-4 with a 3.21 ERA.

“It felt like I was right on track,” Fiers said. “I felt like I made really good pitches and pitched well. Then, they scrapped a couple of runs against me and we just couldn’t get those runs back. Overall, I felt pretty good, so I’m happy with it.”