Brewers pitcher Mike Fiers doesn't throw any harder than we thought he did, but he's succeeding despite his limitations.
You know what to expect when Mike Fiers is pitching. You expect a lot of puns about his name, which is pronounced “Fires.” First inning: “Mike Fiers on the mound and he is setting the mound on Fire recently.” Second inning: “He is heating up.” Third inning: “A perfect name for a day like this. Mike Fiers.” Actual puns from his actual last start. It was 101 degrees in Milwaukee.
You don’t really know what else to expect, because wait who? Mike Fiers, a guy taken in the 22nd round during his age-24 season. The day he made his pro debut, in short-season ball, he was the same age Clayton Kershaw is now. Three years later, Mike Fiers is in the majors, and in seven starts he has struck out 48 batters and walked nine, in 46 innings. He has a 2.31 ERA and some guy in your fantasy league keeps offering him to you for Adrian Gonzalez. And he is the latest fun story of a guy who did more than he was supposed to do.
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Do his early-season struggles suggest that Royals closer Joakim Soria's best days lie behind him, or can he succeed with a different style?
Joakim Soria has been one of the best relief pitchers in baseball over the past four years. From 2007 to 2010, he put up a 2.01 ERA with 281 strikeouts against only 70 walks and 182 hits in 255 innings. Over that period, he held the opposition scoreless in 82 percent of the games he entered, and he allowed multiple runs only five percent of the time. For comparison, Mariano Rivera had a 2.05 ERA over those four years, held the opposition scoreless 83 percent of the time, and allowed multiple runs five percent of the time. Even while fighting (and usually failing) to avoid the basement in the AL Central, the Royals could claim a truly elite closer in Soria, the rare All-Star on a perennial cellar dweller.
The South Siders might have a new southpaw worthy of wearing an ace label.
When the Texas Rangers selected high-schooler John Danks with the ninth pick in the 2003 amateur draft, they were under the impression that the 18-year-old southpaw would be the first of several homegrown hurlers to impact the big-league club. Danks moved swiftly through the system, reaching Triple-A Oklahoma during the 2006 season. While his minor league numbers were solid but less than exemplary, the Rangers decided that Danks could net a more major league-ready pitcher in trade, and they sent the 21-year-old to the White Sox along with Nick Masset in exchange for lanky right-hander Brandon McCarthy. The White Sox had most of their innings accounted for with Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland, Javier Vazquez, and Jose Contreras already in the fold, but they issued Danks a non-roster invitation to spring training, with an eye towards letting the newly acquired pitcher compete for the fifth spot in the rotation. Danks looked sharp in camp and, despite a six-walk performance to close out March, he made the team, debuting on April 8 with a six-inning, three-run six-strikeout performance against the division-rival Twins. He largely struggled for the remainder of the season.
Fast forward to the end of 2008, and suddenly this pitcher who'd had average minor league marks and a poor rookie season in the big leagues was the no-doubt-about-it, go-to guy in the 163rd-game playoff against those same Twins. How did such a dramatic transformation occur, and what enabled Danks to emerge as a legitimate ace?