This traces to a memorable night in May, when Mike Fiers threw a no-hitter against the Reds. His surge stretched into June, a tidy month in which he won all four of his decisions, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down in July.
Fiers extended his winning streak to a career-high seven games Friday night, ushering the A’s to a 5-1 victory over the visiting Chicago White Sox. Oakland flexed its muscles with three solo home runs, courtesy Ramon Laureano, Jurickson Profar and Mark Canha.
But the story starts with Fiers, who hasn’t lost since May 1. How long ago is that? Put it this way: The Warriors held a 2-0 series lead on Houston in their second-round NBA playoff series, and Kevin Durant hadn’t yet hurt his calf, much less his Achilles.
Or consider these numbers: Fiers is 7-0 over his past 12 starts, with a 2.09 ERA. Narrow the scope and he’s 3-0 in his past five starts, with a 1.09 ERA.
If you’re seeking an explanation for Fiers’ success, start with this: He throws strikes. Fiers walked only one batter in 7 ⅔ scoreless innings Friday night, and he’s walked just two in his past three outings (covering 20 ⅓ innings).
“That’s the biggest thing, not giving free passes,” Fiers said. “Every kid I teach or talk to about pitching, the first thing is command. That takes you a long way. … I’m going right after hitters and trusting my defense.
“It’s just getting in a rhythm. I didn’t feel like things were clicking in spring training, but it’s a long season.”
The White Sox threatened in the third, putting runners at first and second with one out. Fiers then struck out Yoan Moncada, the No. 2 hitter in the lineup, to bring ever-imposing Jose Abreu to the plate.
Abreu stands 6-foot-3, weighs 255 pounds and owns similarly eye-catching power numbers (21 homers and 66 RBIs). He made Fiers work, fouling off four pitches, including two with a full count on him.
Finally, on the eighth pitch of the at-bat, Abreu chased a high, 92-mph fastball. He missed, and Fiers walked away unscathed.
He ultimately threw 111 pitches, his second-most this season (behind 131 in the no-hitter), and 77 of them were strikes.
“He’s the one guy you’re not worried about throwing a ton of pitches,” manager Bob Melvin said. “Another terrific start by him.”
Fiers needs to lean on his command because his stuff is not overpowering. He counts as a prime example: Pitching is about getting hitters out, not lighting up the radar gun.
“He doesn’t have an overpowering fastball, velocity-wise, but it spins pretty well in the zone and it’s tough to catch up to,” Melvin said. “He throws his curveball out of the same spot (release point), and now he throws a cutter and sinker every now and then. Different repertoire.”
A’s hitters gave Fiers an early, welcome cushion. Matt Chapman, Matt Olson and Khris Davis strung together consecutive singles in the first inning, putting Oakland ahead 1-0 on Davis’ first RBI since June 25.
Then, in the second, Laureano crushed a solo home run — the ball quickly and majestically soared into the second deck beyond the left-field wall, traveling 430 feet. Laureano now has 17 homers this season and three in his past three games.
Profar, starting for only the third time in eight games, followed Laureano with another solo homer, off the façade below the second deck in right field. This was Profar’s 11th of the season, and marked the sixth time the A’s have hit back-to-back homers.
Canha joined the party in the sixth, launching one over the center-field wall. The A’s now have 148 home runs this season, including 97 in the past 51 games.
Also worth noting: None of Friday night’s blasts came from the big-bopping trio of Chapman, Olson and Davis.
“You look at 1 through 4 in our lineup and that’s pretty impressive,” Melvin said. “But 5 through 9, depending on who we’re hitting where, has the ability to do some damage. I think it’s one of the deeper lineups in the league.”
So can Oakland, now 51-41 and six games behind division-leading Houston, duplicate last year’s second-half surge into the playoffs?
“Ninety-seven is going to be a stretch at this point,” Melvin said before the game, referring to his team’s 2018 win total. “ … But I think we can get stronger in the second half.”