Mike Fiers gets tough test in A’s spring debut and impresses

Fiers looked sharp in spring debut against Mike Trout

MESA, ARIZ. – FEB. 16: Oakland Athletic pitchers Jesus Luzardo and Mike Fiers participate in fielding drills during spring training at Fitch Park in Mesa, Ariz., Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
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MESA, Ariz. — Mike Fiers didn’t exactly get a chance to ease into his Cactus League debut.

When the right-hander took the mound to start for the A’s in Tuesday’s 17-5 loss to the Angels the first batter to greet him was Mike Trout. No big deal, just start your spring off by facing arguably the best baseball player on the planet.

It’s not the most ideal situation for Fiers given the number of times the A’s will face the Angels over the regular season. But he knows the deal.

Trout was not the only starter in the Angels lineup. Regulars Albert Pujols and David Fletcher also made the trip to Hohokam Stadium to get a look at Fiers.

“That’s why he’s over here. He wants to see me,” Fiers said of Trout. “These guys all want to see me because we’re going to face each other a lot. It’s not a huge deal. I like facing those guys. But I’d rather see them in the regular season.”

Trout legged out a single to lead off the game but Fiers settled in and began to look more like the pitcher he was for the A’s during last year’s playoff run. He was the first A’s pitcher to complete three innings of work this spring and allowed just one run on three hits with no walks and five strikeouts.

“First time on the mound in a game, he pitched well,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He’s got enough of a track record that (the Angels) know what he does anyway. This was more about just getting work in and working on pitches.”

The five strikeouts were a continuation of Fiers’ increased strikeout totals from the time he arrived in Oakland via trade from the Tigers last August. Fiers does not throw his fastball particularly hard, averaging around 92-93 mph. His ability to strike guys out starts with being aggressive early in the count and elevating his pitches up in the zone as the at-bat goes on.

“I’m just trying to do the things I was doing last year,” Fiers said. “Filling the zone up, keeping guys off balance and trying to get off the field as quick as possible.”

Asked if he might have been holding back some of his stuff knowing that he was up against an AL West rival, Fiers sly in his response with an answer to keep the Angels on their toes.

“I’m going to be totally different against them. All that stuff I did today was for show,” Fiers said with a grin. “Pitched totally different than I would in the regular season.”

— Nick Martini had a scare in the sixth inning when he tripped over his shoelace and collided into the left-field wall as he went for a fly ball. Teammates Chad Pinder and Dustin Fowler immediately raced over to Martini after the collision, as did manager Bob Melvin and trainer Nick Paparesta from the dugout.

Martini got up under his own power after a couple of minutes and was able to walk on his own, but the A’s decided to remove him from the game and replace him with Skye Bolt.

Melvin had not heard back from the x-rays Martini was sent to get but believes the outfielder hyperextended his back.

“It looked like his neck at first but it ended up being his back,” Melvin said. “He was walking around but he’s not going to feel good for a few days. Hopefully it’s nothing structural.”

Martini, 28, is in a tough spot this spring. He flourished as the A’s leadoff man during their playoff run last season but is now on the roster bubble after the club signed Robbie Grossman to a one-year deal a couple of weeks ago.

“Nick Martini should not be taken out of this equation,” Melvin said. “He had a great year for us last season and is doing all the same things this spring he did for us last year. Here’s a guy who was leading off the Wild Card game for us last year. He got on base at a high rate for us. Depth is important to us and I would be shocked if all these guys aren’t used at some point in the season.”

— Matt Chapman will make his Cactus League debut Wednesday against the Dodgers as the A’s designated hitter. The original plan was for Chapman to play Tuesday, but the club decided to give him a day off after he got eight at-bats in a simulated game Monday at minor league camp.

An exact date for Chapman’s debut at third base is still up in the air.

“Not sure,” Melvin said. “I’ll rely on the training staff for that one.”

— Jorge Mateo went 2 for 2 with an RBI to bump his Cactus League average up to .364.

— Fernando Rodney has struggled early on in spring. He allowed four runs on four hits and two walks in the fourth inning Tuesday. Rodney’s ERA sits at a whopping 33.75 over two appearances.

— Veteran right-hander Marco Estrada threw in simulated action at the A’s minor league camp Tuesday afternoon. His next outing will come in a game at some point this week and he will be allowed to throw up to 50 pitches.

— Stephen Piscotty’s swing appears to be in midseason form. The right fielder went 2 for 3, driving in two runs after he doubled off the wall in left-center. Piscotty is batting .500 through over three games this spring.

PITCH CLOCK NO BIG DEAL FOR A’S PITCHERS

Daniel Mengden was on the mound for the first game in which MLB’s new pitch clock was utilized.

Under the MLB guidelines, umpires will issue reminders to pitchers and hitters who violate the 20-second rule and could be instructed to begin assessing ball-strike penalties for violations later on in the spring schedule depending on MLB’s negotiations with the MLB Players Association.

A’s pitchers are not worried about it, especially Mengden, who has experienced it in the past as MLB was testing it out in the minor leagues.

“I noticed it. But I’m pretty sure the only time was when (Mark) Canha was talking about it,” Mengden said. “It would be fine.. You’ll have maybe one slow guy per team. But most guys normally deliver it by around the ten-second mark.”

Melvin does not mind the pitch clock too much if it will help speed up games.

“Of all the things that have been bantered about, I think I’m on board with this one more than the other ones.”

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