Fiers rebounds to save weary bullpen

Houston starter locks in after surrendering early 3-run HR

Fiers rebounds to save weary bullpen

HOUSTON -- If there was a silver lining to Mike Fiers' three-run first inning in the Astros' 3-2 defeat to Kansas City, it shined through in his response on the mound.

Three batters, three runs was Fiers' line mere minutes into his outing. Following Lorenzo Cain's three-run homer, the ghost of Collin McHugh's five-run, one-out effort in New York last week loomed.

It's not like the Astros starters have been giving the bullpen much rest this season. Houston entered the game with the most bullpen innings in the American League through seven games.

So, Fiers even managing to reach the fourth would be notable. Not only did the veteran righty deliver that, he gutted out six innings and allowed the bullpen to stay on schedule.

"After the way the first inning went, I don't think we expected to only use three pitchers. That's a tribute to Fiers," manager A.J. Hinch said. "It sets our bullpen up to still be very versatile."

Fiers retired 12 of the next 14 batters he faced after Cain's long ball and saw just three above the minimum once he recorded his first out.

"All I could do was move on," Fiers said. "Of course, whenever you don't give up any more runs, you feel great, but those three runs were too much for us tonight.

"I needed to be two runs better and pick my team up, but I came up a run short."

Hinch on Fiers, defense in loss

Hinch said, much like in McHugh's shaky start vs. the Yankees, Fiers was trying to dance around the zone too much in the first inning. And just like McHugh did against the Royals on Monday, Fiers figured out how to counter the Royals' assertive approach.

"Both pitchers came out and got ambushed," Hinch said. "We looked up and three hitters in, it's 3-0. Cain's homer was on a pitch that was on the inside part of the plate to the smallest part of the ballpark.

"Fiers settled in and started using his pitches more effectively. Those guys are really aggressive in the zone, and you have to be just around the zone enough to make them want to swing. He mixed his pitches better as the outing went along."

Fiers said the bounce-back grit wasn't inspired by the bullpen exhaustion, as he prefers to avoid the big picture in the moment and on the mound. Instead, he lamented on not lasting beyond the 101 pitches and six frames he worked for a still-weary bullpen.

"I have to do my job no matter what, going deep in the game," Fiers said. "I can't think about what's going on in the bullpen. I was able to go six, but other than that first inning when my pitch count was almost 30 pitches, I could've gone deeper."

Fiers' ability to hand the ball to the 'pen for only the game's final third allowed Houston to use just two relievers, Will Harris and Luke Gregerson.  

And Fiers' ability -- even in a losing effort -- to stretch his outing out doesn't go unnoticed beyond the outfield fence.

"We in the bullpen pay attention to that, and we appreciate it," said Harris, who tossed two scoreless innings. "Those guys are trying to eat up outs just like everybody else."

Chris Abshire is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.