Fiers leads Crew to victory in first MLB start

Fiers leads Crew to victory in first MLB start

Fiers leads Crew to victory in first MLB start
LOS ANGELES -- The injury-battered Brewers turned Tuesday to Michael Fiers, a 26-year-old right-hander up from Triple-A. By mid-afternoon, a thought struck the team's pitching coach.

"I've never seen him start a game," Rick Kranitz said, counting Spring Training and all.

So it goes for a club practicing damage control.

But Kranitz loved what he saw, a 2-1 win over the Dodgers, decided by Fiers' seven-inning gem in his first Major League start, Ryan Braun's boo-busting home run and John Axford's sweat-inducing save.

Dodgers star Matt Kemp, whose return from the disabled list sparked a crowd of 51,137, stood at third base with two outs in the ninth inning, representing the tying run. That's when Axford took a deep breath and looked toward the dugout.

"It's something I shouldn't be thinking on the mound, but I was," Axford admitted. "I thought, 'I've got to lock this down and get the win for Mike here.' He did such an amazing job, coming out the way he did. He showed grit, determination, and didn't show any emotion."

Braun sure did, answering the boobirds in his hometown with smiles and a first-inning, two-run homer off of the Dodgers' own Minor League call-up, right-hander Nathan Eovaldi. The 22-year-old Eovaldi otherwise carved through the Brewers' lineup over seven innings, allowing only two hits after Braun's homer, and no more runs.

Fiers was better. Making his third Major League appearance and first career start in one of baseball's pitching cathedrals, Fiers allowed one run on five hits in seven efficient innings, with three strikeouts and no walks. He threw 89 pitches.

"I think I handled it decently," he said.

Decently? Other Brewers spoke in more glowing terms.

"He was incredible," Braun said. "To go through the amount of injuries that we've gone through, your depth as an organization is certainly tested, so to have somebody to step up and throw the ball that well is huge for our entire team."

Fiers pitched in place of the injured Marco Estrada. Manager Ron Roenicke promised that Fiers would start again.

"It would be pretty tough to take him out of there," Roenicke said.

Fiers said he didn't look around Dodger Stadium until after Axford retired James Loney on a game-ending groundout. He thought of his long road to the Major Leagues, and of calling his mom and dad at home in Florida. It was nearing 1 a.m. ET, but Fiers was sure his mom would be up awaiting his call.

"I tried not to show too much emotion, but inside I was going pretty crazy," Fiers said.

In hindsight, he said, "I was just pitching like I always do, just going out there trying to black out the crowd noise and the whole environment of Dodger Stadium. I felt awesome. I felt like I was having fun."

Fiers' first five innings were nearly spotless. He scattered three hits -- a bloop single to center field, a broken-bat single to right and an infield single to shortstop -- before the Dodgers scored in the sixth. Ivan DeJesus doubled to the left-field corner for the Dodgers' first hard hit, and Andre Ethier capitalized on one of Fiers' few mistakes, a fastball that was supposed to be up in the zone but instead sunk down and in -- right into the left-handed Ethier's wheelhouse.

Ethier's double halved the Brewers' lead to 2-1, but Fiers escaped further damage when he retired Jerry Hairston Jr. on a bouncer to shortstop.

Fiers was at 82 pitches through that inning, and the Brewers stuck with him for the seventh. He responded by retiring the Dodgers in order on seven pitches.

"He was good enough," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "Obviously, we didn't do a whole lot with him. Wally [third base coach Tim Wallach] said it, he looked a little like [Josh] Collmenter with Arizona, over the top, a lot of high fastballs. Obviously, we didn't do a whole lot with him."

With the win, Fiers set a couple of milestones. He became the first Brewers pitcher to win his first MLB start since Yovani Gallardo earned a 5-4 victory on June 18, 2007, versus the Giants. He also became the first Brewer to win his first MLB start on the road since Nick Neugebauer in a 6-4 win on August 19, 2001, at Cincinnati.

Relievers Francisco Rodriguez and Axford finished the win for the second straight night. The save was Axford's ninth, and it was nerve-wracking. Kemp capped a nine-pitch at-bat with a double, his only hit of the night, and Axford followed by hitting Andre Ethier.

The Brewers got a break when Hairston fouled off a pair of bunt attempts and then bounced into a double play. Axford retired Loney to end the game.

As a bonus, the Brewers did not put anybody on the disabled list. They had lost a player after each of their previous three victories.

"We haven't played as well as we've wanted to as a team, and to come in here and take the first two games from a really good team, that's a good way to start the series for us," Braun said.

He handled all of the Brewers' offense with a first-inning home run, Braun's 14th this season. He has hit safely in 11 of his 12 career games at Dodger Stadium, where he attended games as a kid, and is a .438 hitter here.

Braun hit an outside, 94-mph fastball from Eovaldi over the right-field fence.

"Night games, you have to crush it to get it out of here," said Roenicke, a former Dodger. "That's why what Kemp does here, with the opposite-field home runs, that's pretty amazing to do that here."

With a win Wednesday behind Yovani Gallardo or Thursday behind Zack Grienke, the Brewers would score their first road series win since taking three of four in Chicago during their first trip of the season.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.