With Matt Garza slated to return to the Milwaukee Brewers’ starting rotation in the not too distant future, manager Ron Roenicke will have to decide whether to keep Mike Fiers or Jimmy Nelson as a starter for the stretch run in September.
While decisions like these can leave a manager tossing and turning at night, the choice Roenicke must make upon Garza’s return is quite clear: keep Mike Fiers in the starting rotation.
Since being promoted from Triple-A in early August to fill in for Garza, who went on the DL with an oblique strain, Fiers has looked like the second coming of Greg Maddux.
In his four starts since being called up, Fiers has gone 4-0 with a 1.28 ERA in 28 innings. He’s also fanned 32 batters while surrendering just 4 walks. That includes an outing against the Cubs where he racked up 14 strikeouts in six innings, becoming just the eighth pitcher since 1914 to accomplish that feat.
At this point, standing ovations for Fiers as he leaves the mound after his final inning have become as commonplace at Miller Park as the Klement’s Sausage Race. Needless to say, the “he’s on Fiers” puns have basically written themselves.
Though his name would suggest otherwise, Fiers isn’t a flamethrower out on the mound. With a fastball that tops out at around 90 mph and probably couldn’t break a pane of glass, he relies on command and his deceptive pitching style to confuse opposing hitters. Fiers has utilized his entire repertoire during this successful run, mixing in his curveball, cutter and changeup to go along with his fastball.
While Nelson certainly has been serviceable since taking Marco Estrada’s spot in the rotation, he has struggled at times, allowing at least two runs in each of his starts this year. He has posted a 2-5 record with a 4.10 ERA in nine starts this season for the Brewers, and has mostly struggled after getting through the opponent’s batting order for the first time.
Opponents are batting just .219 against Nelson the first time they face him in a game, to go along with a .296 on-base percentage and a .288 slugging percentage. However, those slash lines rise to .292/.350/.417 and .302/.362/.508 Nelson’s second and third time through a lineup. Additionally, 19 of the 24 runs he’s allowed this year have come after his first time through the order.
Considering his struggles after his first time through a lineup, moving Nelson to the bullpen might be best for him and the team, regardless of Garza’s return.
The biggest need for the Brewers’ bullpen is a hard-throwing right-hander to serve as a setup man ahead of Francisco Rodriguez. Nelson doesn’t have much experience out of the bullpen, but he would fill a void for Milwaukee and play to his strength of performing well against batters the first time he faces them.
Now that doesn’t mean that we should expect Fiers to pitch at the elite level he has been recently. He’s been “Breaking Bad at the Emmys” dominant since returning to the big leagues, and he’s due to cool off at least a little bit.
Even then, Fiers would still be the better option for the Brewers in their starting rotation at this point. He’s shown that he can handle the pressure of big games, as he put a stop to Milwaukee’s three-game losing streak with a solid performance against the Pirates in his last outing.
When you’re battling for a division title this late in the season, you keep the hot hand in the rotation.
This decision is a no-brainer for Ron Roenicke.