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Fiers' emergence a boon for Astros

Righty strikes out nine in win over O's, has been dynamite in last 10 starts
MLB.com @brianmctaggart

No one could have imagined a couple of months ago that Mike Fiers would emerge as the Astros' most consistent starting pitcher entering the second half of the season, rescuing a Houston rotation besieged by injury.

Fiers' early-season penchant of giving up homers, which briefly led to his demotion to the bullpen, now seems inconceivable considering how well he's pitched. Fiers (7-4) held the Orioles to one run and six hits in seven innings with nine strikeouts in the Astros' 8-7 win over the Orioles on Friday night at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

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No one could have imagined a couple of months ago that Mike Fiers would emerge as the Astros' most consistent starting pitcher entering the second half of the season, rescuing a Houston rotation besieged by injury.

Fiers' early-season penchant of giving up homers, which briefly led to his demotion to the bullpen, now seems inconceivable considering how well he's pitched. Fiers (7-4) held the Orioles to one run and six hits in seven innings with nine strikeouts in the Astros' 8-7 win over the Orioles on Friday night at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

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"He was filling up the strike zone and when he needed to expand, he had us out on our front foot," Orioles slugger Chris Davis said. "That really kind of was the game plan going in, and we knew that he was going to throw a lot of offspeed pitches and use his fastball in spots. It's tough to hit on your heels."

While the Astros' rotation has been on the mend, Fiers has been steady. In his last 10 starts, he is 6-2 with a 2.36 ERA. In 61 innings, he's allowed 43 hits, 17 runs (16 earned), three homers and 21 walks and has struck out 69 batters.

"I think most of his issues early in the season revolved around walks and home runs, and he's been able to make some adjustments on both of those," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "So when he can throw all of his pitches for strikes when he wants to -- his changeup has always been good, his curveball's gotten better, his fastball has a little sneaky to it -- he's really been a weapon for us. Really, we've needed it. I've said it time and time again, in a time where our rotation was pieced together, he was a stable part of it."

Fiers' performance has been huge, considering the rotation was rocked by injuries to Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton and even Lance McCullers Jr., who missed a pair of starts. The Astros were already without Collin McHugh, who will make his 2017 debut on Saturday against the Orioles.

With Keuchel set to join the rotation next week in Detroit -- a move which will put the Astros' rotation at full strength -- Fiers has solidified his spot.

"Yeah, it feels good," he said. "Just taking it one pitch at a time. Just trying to focus on the next pitch, next batter and go from there. Just working with [catcher Brian] McCann and kind of trusting him with everything he does behind the scenes, doing his homework on the hitters and just trusting him really. And then just executing the pitches of whatever he calls."

On a hot and humid night in Baltimore, Fiers admitted he had trouble gripping the ball at times to throw his curveball, but his fastball command in the strike zone was good.

"Yeah, it was definitely tough," he said. "But everyone's got to pitch in it. Just had to figure out how to adjust to it. Just being so humid tonight, my hands were getting a little moist there and just kind of hard to grip the ball a little bit, but just had to find a way to get through it."

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.

Houston Astros, Mike Fiers