At the start of spring training in 2012, Mike Fiers had little or no chance to make the Milwaukee Brewers’ starting rotation.
The starting five was set with Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke, Randy Wolf, Shaun Marcum and Chris Narveson. Barring an injury during camp, Fiers knew he was heading for Class AAA Nashville when the season began.
This spring, the stakes are much higher for the 27-year-old right-hander. Not only will Fiers get every opportunity to fill a spot in a wide-open back end of the rotation, he will be disappointed if he doesn’t do so.
“I want to be as ready as I can and show them I can pitch,” said Fiers, among the pitchers and catchers who will report to spring camp Tuesday. “I’m not worried about what spot I’m in. I want to pitch in the rotation and help the team out as much as I can.”
Greinke, Wolf and Marcum are gone, and Narveson is coming off rotator-cuff surgery that cost him most of last season. As the Brewers retool their rotation from within the organization, Fiers has a foot solidly in the door thanks to his showing last season in the big leagues.
Summoned from Nashville when Marcum was sidelined with an elbow issue, Fiers made a fantastic debut May 29 against Los Angeles in Dodgers Stadium, allowing only five hits and one run over seven innings in a 2-1 victory.
That outing proved to be a preview of things to come. Relying on a deceptive delivery and pinpoint control rather than overpowering stuff, Fiers turned in one quality start after another, building a 6-4 record and 1.80 earned run average over his first 15 outings.
Unfortunately for Fiers and the Brewers, who unexpectedly were climbing back in the National League wild-card race at the time, he hit the wall. Fiers was crossing into uncharted waters in terms of innings pitched in a season but he insisted he wasn’t fatigued. With no better option on hand, manager Ron Roenicke kept Fiers in the rotation with mostly disastrous results.
Over his final 10 starts, Fiers went 3-6 with a 6.98 ERA, showing little of the command he exhibited before that stretch. Fiers finished with a 9-10 record and 3.74 ERA .
“He was probably out of gas a little bit,” said Roenicke. “But he pitched well enough for a length of time that you feel he will hopefully be one of those guys” to make the rotation.
Overall, Fiers showed he could compete at the big-league level when on top of his game, as evidenced by his 135 strikeouts in 1272/3 innings, with only 36 walks. And those 23 major-league outings ( 22 starts) will work in his favor as he competes for a starting job.
“To have a shot to be on the roster is exciting to me,” said Fiers, a 22nd-round draft pick in 2009 out of Division II Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
“It’s crazy to think I’m at this point a year later but now I have to push myself even harder to get to that next level. Deception helps, but I’ve got to hit my spots and be a pitcher.”
Gallardo is the unquestioned No. 1 starter, and Roenicke also has Marco Estrada penciled in for a rotation spot. That leaves three spots to be won, with Fiers competing with Narveson as well as right-handers Wily Peralta and Mark Rogers, both of whom were impressive in late-season stints in 2012.
The pitcher who doesn’t make the rotation likely will be shuffled into a bullpen role, but Fiers does have minor-league options and could be returned to Nashville to make regular starts.
“I’d love to be a starter but as long as I’m on the team, then I’m fine,” said Fiers, who was 1-3 with a 4.42 ERA in 10 starts with Nashville last season .
“If I can help out of the bullpen, that’s fine, too. My ideal spot would be starting, but relieving wouldn’t be bad at all.
“I’m going to approach it like any other spring training — just try to get myself ready for the season. I don’t worry too much about what the other guys are doing.”