The A’s finally came to a decision on what they will do with healthy veteran pitcher Mike Fiers, and it took a month into the season for his big return.
Fiers was originally going to make his 2021 debut coming out of the bullpen, but Bob Melvin instead decided to insert him into the rotation, where he picked up the loss Friday night in a 3-2 loss to Baltimore.
The A’s currently have a six-man rotation for the first time this season, and Melvin plans to re-evaluate the rotation after a few starts. LHP Cole Irvin — was acquired during the offseason from the Philadelphia Phillies — was originally planned to just fill in for the fifth spot until Fiers returned. But after a 2-3 start with 25 strikeouts against just four walks in 31 innings, the A’s were not going to send him down. So for now, the bullpen consists of just seven relievers.
Melvin explained what he will be looking for in these upcoming games:
“We will have to see how the next few starts go. Whether or not, we may need to make some adjustments there. We do have some guys that can go multiple innings. You look and J.B. [Wendelken] has been in 13 games, and [Yusmeiro] Petit and I think Lou [Trivno] have been in 12, it’s half the games, so that can’t be sustained the entire season.”
Jake Diekman has not allowed a run in his previous 8-2/3 innings, and has been someone the A’s can confidently rely on late in games. Petit has not allowed a run in 10 of his last 11 games and has allowed just one run in 13 total innings, usually in high-intensity, runners-on, low-out game situations to rescue his starters. When Petit has struggled, the runs fall on the starter, hence his 0.69 ERA, but he has gotten out of most sticky situations cleanly.
When it comes to longer outings, Melvin says there are plenty of guys who can pitch multiple innings out of the bullpen but when it came to naming names, he didn’t have many:
“There are any number of guys down there, [Deolis] Guerra is probably the guy that comes to mind the most. [Reymin] Guduan could give us a couple innings too. I think Guerra is the guy that would probably be in the upwards, few innings upwards to 30-40 pitches.”
The most consistent and reliable bullpen options are Petit, Wendelken, Diekman and Trivino. Trivino has taken over the closer role while Trevor Rosenthal recovers from surgery where he had a rib removed. After one month of baseball, these have been the guys you can trust. Sergio Romo, LHP Adam Kolarek, Jordan Weems, A.J Puk, Rosenthal are all injured or inconsistent.
Romo is the only new arrival this year but has not shined like the four returning A’s relievers have. Guerra and Guduan are hit or miss, but it has usually been miss. They are not guys you want to see taking the mound in close games but can get the job done on a night with great A’s offense.
Fiers was reinstated Monday from the injured list and was available out of the bullpen for the four-game Tampa Bay series that ended Thursday. He didn’t make his appearance but started Friday night, giving up three runs and six hits in six innings.
Fiers said he had a lot of extra time getting ready at the alternate site and there should be no excuses if he doesn’t come out strong in his first outing. Still a member of the bullpen Wednesday, Fiers said:
“I feel like I am definitely ahead of schedule just because I had an extra month to get ready. It’s been two months of spring training for me so in the whole scheme of things, I have to take it as that. … I have done it for a whole month now and there is no excuse going out there and pitching. I have to go out there and get the job done.”
Fiers explained he is excited to be healthy and is relieved to feel 100 percent again, but he but didn’t have an answer when asked what exactly was hurt. He said it takes longer for starters to work their way up to full pitch counts, but most veterans, like Frankie Montas and others, are known to get their count up quicker than most.
Melvin explain what went into the quick decision to have Fiers go from a bullpen pitcher to a starter in the span of 72 hours:
“I say a lot of things that I have to come back and explain later but it is what he has done. You look at his track record with us, he’s done it pretty well. You don’t want to take Cole Irvin out of the rotation because he’s pitched well, we certainly don’t want to take the other guys out so at some point you look at your bullpen and look at how rested guys are and we’re in a pretty good spot today.”
The A’s have a lot to figure out and luckily for them, they have three games against the Baltimore Orioles to do it. They play the Toronto Blue Jays starting Monday and will see their old shortstop, team leader and Bay Area native Marcus Semien for the first time of the season.
Melvin made it clear the six-man rotation is not permanent. Who will stay and who will go to the bullpen? If a starter is moved to the bullpen, who has to go? All the pitchers the A’s acquired during the offseason have yet to prove anything so far. They are relying on four relievers every close game and it may work now, but it won’t work forever.
Simone McCarthy is SFBay’s Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @SimoneMcCarthy0 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.