Coming into 2012, the Brewers rotation was set in stone, with all five starting pitchers from the division champion squad returning.
Gallardo. Greinke. Marcum. Wolf. Narveson.
And if one of them got hurt, Marco Estrada could fill in and top prospect Wily Peralta was looming in Triple-A, seemingly poised to join the big league roster at any point. Three injuries to starting pitching, a rough season for Peralta, a Major League-best 1.80 era, and a near-perfect game later, Fiers is off to the best start of any pitcher in Brewers history.
Despite only throwing in the upper 80′s (though he reached 91 mph in the eighth inning on Tuesday), Fiers has the fifth-highest K rate in the National League, striking out 25.2 percent of batters faced. He brings to the table a change-up that batters swing at 62 percent of the time and an overhand curveball that registers around 71 mph.
Fiers’ best attribute that he bring to the hill isn’t his Uncle Charlie or his deceptively sneaky fastball–his competitiveness seems to give him an extra edge. He feeds off the crowd and the energy and always saves his best for last; he convinced Ron Roenicke to give him one more batter with runners on the corners with two outs and a one-run lead in the eighth. He responded by blowing a 91 mph heater by Ryan Ludwick and then putting him away with a razor-sharp curve.
He’s currently on a run of nine straight starts with at least six innings while allowing two or fewer runs and has thrust his name into National League Rookie of the Year talks. Among pitchers with at least 80 innings pitched, Fiers’ ERA and FIP (2.21) rank the best among any pitcher in all of baseball.
This run was never foreseen coming into the season or even the day he received his first major league start on May 29. It took a season-ending injury for Chris Narveson and a mishap to Marco Estrada while rounding first base for the Brewers to even call up Fiers. Then, as has been the story all season with the team, Shaun Marcum went on the disabled list following his June 14 start in Kansas City, giving the club reason to retain their rookie stud.
On a team that has been out of serious playoff contention for a while now, Fiers has done what any ace does by stepping up against marquee opponents. In 52.2 innings against teams in legitimate postseason contention right now (Dodgers, Pirates, White Sox, Diamondbacks, Cardinals, Reds, Nationals), he has a 1.88 ERA with 52 strikeouts and a 4-1 record that could easily be 7-0.
Of all the Brewers to take advantage of the opportunities presented to them in 2012, none may have stepped up bigger than Mike Fiers, who is solidifying a spot in the rotation for years to come.