How Mike Fiers has dominated for A's without dominant stuff in 2019

How Mike Fiers has dominated for A's without dominant stuff in 2019

OAKLAND -- The date was April 20, 2019.

Mike Fiers had just been knocked around by the Toronto Blue Jays for six earned runs in 3 1/3 innings. It was the third straight outing he had allowed six earned runs. Fiers' ERA was 8.28. He simply was out of answers.

Fast forward two-and-a-half months and we are witnessing a completely different pitcher. Friday night at the Coliseum, the right-hander picked up his seventh straight win as the A's knocked off the White Sox, 5-1.

Fiers shut out the Chicago White Sox for 7 2/3 innings, resulting in a 10th straight quality start and 14th consecutive outing surrendering three runs or fewer. Suddenly, that 8.28 ERA from April is down to 3.61.

"It's just getting in a rhythm," Fiers explained Friday night. "Starting in spring training, I didn't feel like I was clicking. But it's a long season. The faster you figure it out, the fast you're going to be good."

Fiers has certainly figured it out. Since his May 7 no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds, the 34-year-old is 7-0 with a sparkling 2.09 ERA.

"It's a lot of fun (playing behind him)," A's third baseman Matt Chapman said. "He throws a lot of strikes, he works quick, all the things you want from a pitcher when you're playing defense for him. He's coming out and giving us a chance to win every time he pitches."

It's the consistent strike-throwing that has really allowed Fiers to flourish. He has only issued nine walks in his last seven starts ,and it seems like he hasn't left a single pitch over the heart of the plate.

"The biggest thing is not giving free passes," Fiers said. "Every kid I teach or talk to about pitching, the first thing is command. It takes you a long way. You can throw it as hard as you want, but if you throw it right down the middle every time, you're going to get hurt, especially at this level. So for me, it's about hitting the corners, going up, down, out, in, and just keeping them off balance, throwing a bunch of strikes and expanding once I get to two strikes."

Fiers has a handful of pitches in his repertoire, none of them terribly overwhelming from a velocity standpoint. His fastball sits in the low-90s, but his movement and location make it an effective pitch.

"He doesn't have an overpowering fastball velocity-wise, but it spins pretty well, and up in the zone, it's tough for anybody to catch up to," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "He throws his curveball out of the same spot, so he can pitch up and down very effectively, and now even a little bit more side to side with the cutter. And he throws the sinker every now and then. ... He might not strike out 10 guys and overpower you, but in his own way, he does. Next thing you know, he's in the seventh or eighth inning and has a lead."

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In a results-based business, that's all you can ask for. Fiers only struck out four batters Friday night, and his season-high is just six.

But with his command and movement, not to mention a top-notch defense behind him, that style works just fine for the A's.

2019 MLB Rule 5 Draft: A's lose Mark Payton, acquire minor leaguers

2019 MLB Rule 5 Draft: A's lose Mark Payton, acquire minor leaguers

As teams headed down south to the Winter Meetings in San Diego, the two main goals for the A's appeared to be finding a left-handed bat at second base, as well as continuing conversations with relief pitchers.

While the A's didn't make any huge acquisitions during the meetings, the 2019 Rule 5 Draft came and went as it does every year. With that, Oakland selected three players in the minor-league phase of the draft and had a couple more transactions as well.

Second baseman Vimael Machin was acquired from the Phillies for cash considerations. He will be competing for a roster spot.

The 26-year-old slashed .295/.390/.412 with seven home runs and 65 RBI across the Double and Triple-A teams in the Chicago Cubs organization last season. 

Jason Krizan was selected from the Mets during the Triple-A phase. The 30-year-old outfielder hit .275 across two teams last season. 

The Athletic's prospect writer Emily Waldon says he's going to be a solid addition to the A's organization.

"His walk rate has always been impressive," Waldon told NBC Sports California. "He doesn't have a ton of swing and misses, with some raw power, with eight to ten home run seasons. He's also a dependable defender with a good veteran presence." Waldon also joked Krizan has "80-grade sarcasm."

The A's also selected catcher Jose Colina, who put up some massive numbers with the Arizona League Indians Blue after signing with Cleveland as a minor-league free agent in June. The 21-year-old slashed .372/.443/.744 with eight homers and 20 RBI.

Right-handed pitcher Deivy Mendez rounds the group out. In 25 appearances across Single-A and Short-A last season with the Padres organization, he went 2-1 with six saves and a 4.20 ERA, striking out 33. 

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The Cincinnati Reds selected outfielder Mark Payton, who was claimed off waivers by the A's in December of 2018. Payton was selected during the major league phase of the draft which, according to Waldon, has the A's losing some muscle at the plate.

However, scouts reportedly didn't see the 28-year-old "doing a great deal outside of filling some needs." That power is what has gotten the most talk around Payton. 

Payton took advantage of the PCL last season with Triple-A Las Vegas and slashed .334/.400/.653 with 30 home runs and 97 RBI in 118 games. 

Why A's are focused more on keeping young stars than MLB free agency

Why A's are focused more on keeping young stars than MLB free agency

The AL West is moving and shaking early this MLB offseason, with players coming in and out of the division. 

Star third baseman Anthony Rendon reportedly agreed to a seven-year, $245 million contract to join the Angels. The Halos also traded for former top prospect Dylan Bundy to add to their rotation, and reportedly are pursuing longtime Giants ace Madison Bumgarner. The Astros, who have been the cream of the crop out west, lost pitcher Gerrit Cole to the Yankees, and Mariners general manager Jerry DiPoto is bound to make 47 trades by spring training. 

A's GM David Forst says he's more focused on his own squad than what his division foes are up to, but he certainly isn't mad about the Cole news. 

"I'm not sad to see Gerrit Cole leave our division is the best way to put it," Forst said to NBC Sports California in a 1-on-1 interview Wednesday. "We try not to get too wrapped up into what other teams are doing."

The A's came to the Winter Meetings in San Diego looking to upgrade their roster like every other team, however, they're much more focused on who they have in-house as opposed to the free-agent market this year. 

Oakland should receive a big boost to its starting rotation with the additions of Jesus Luzardo (22) and A.J. Puk (24) next season. The A's infield also is full of young talent, including budding stars Marcus Semien (29), Matt Chapman (26) and Matt Olson (25). Franklin Barreto (23), Jorge Mateo (24) and Sheldon Neuse (25) will compete for second base. 

"We've got a really good foundation and we're not heavily invested in free agency right now because we have those guys," Forst said. "We have young pitching, we have the position player group. So our focus has been on filling holes -- looking for a left-handed bat, something in the bullpen. We're fortunate enough to not have to be out there in free agency." 

Semien, who finished third in AL MVP voting last season after hitting 33 homers with an .892 OPS, is expected to earn nearly $14 million in arbitration this offseason and becomes a free agent after next season. The Bay Area native also has reiterated his hope to stay with the A's long term. 

Chapman and Olson both are arbitration-eligible after next season and are set to hit free agency once the 2023 season ends. 

"Certainly our hope is to keep all these guys together," Forst said. "You mentioned Marcus, who's going to be a free agent potentially after this year. That's something we'll address as the season goes along, and the rest of those guys, we're looking for ways to keep them in Oakland as long as possible."

The A's real goal when it comes to 2020 is avoiding the AL Wild Card Game after falling two years in a row in the winner-take-all contest. Forst and the rest of the front office is focused on giving Oakland its best chance at winning the division to get a better shot at the World Series. 

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"You want to give your guys a chance to play in a series with a better chance to advance," Forst said. "To do that, you have to win the division. We've obviously stayed close to Houston the last couple of years, but as we put this team together, we're definitely looking towards a way to win the division, to get out of the wild card game and give our guys a better chance at a division series."

The A's will need another big season from the Semien, Chapman, Olson trio for that to happen, and they hope to keep them together well into the next decade.