The last time Oakland Athletics starter Mike Fiers faced the Los Angeles Dodgers, on August 21, 2015, he no-hit them as a member of the Houston Astros.
Los Angeles looks very different than it did back then — Jimmy Rollins and Andre Ethier have retired, Cody Bellinger is at first instead of Adrian Gonzalez and then, of course, there’s Manny Machado and Brian Dozier added to the infield mix.
“It always comes back, but it’s kind of a new team over there. There are still a few guys that I faced at that time, but a lot of new faces and new guys,” Fiers said.
Acquired by the A’s from the Detroit Tigers on Monday, Fiers will once again face the Dodgers on Wednesday, giving the man he opposed during his no-hit bid — Brett Anderson — an extra day of rest. In doing that, he’ll square off against Clayton Kershaw, who, although he’s not having a typical Clayton Kershaw year at 5-5 with 98 strikeouts in 95 1/3 innings, is still as formidable a starter as there is in the National League, with a 2.55 ERA.
“That’s what I want as a pitcher,” Fiers said on Tuesday. “I want to pitch against tough teams in a playoff race and show these guys that I can do this, and be a part of it. Obviously a tough team like the Dodgers and a soon-to-be Hall of Famer with Clayton Kershaw as a pitcher, it’s exciting.”
The lineup may be different, but current Dodgers are hitting .152 in 72 career at-bats against Fiers, with new acquisition Dozier owning a .217 mark (5-for-23) with the most experience against the former Tigers righty.
Players left over from the lineup that Fiers no-hit in 2015 — Justin Turner, Chase Utley, Joc Pederson and Yasmani Grandal — are 2-for-18 against Fiers.
“There’s probably something to that,” said manager Bob Melvin. “You never forget that, certainly, but I think new team, new ballpark, a little different atmosphere with what’s going on around us right now, you think would inspire him. It’s a guy that’s pitched well against us in the past, and you’d think the ballpark plays well to him, too. He keeps it for the most part in the big part of the park, and it’s tough to hit home runs here at night.”
The Dodgers — ranked seventh in the majors in home runs as a team — didn’t hit any on Tuesday, but small-balled their way to a win. Fiers has allowed 20 home runs in 119 innings of work this season, over the span of 21 starts.
“We feel like it’s a good ballpark for him,” Melvin said. “You’re going to see him do his thing tonight.”
The A’s have plenty of scouting information for Fiers to take advantage of, but, Melvin said, veteran guys starting for a team for the first time late in a season are a bit different.
“Guys that have been in our system, we give a ton of information to,” Melvin said. “A veteran guy like him, we’ll give the information to, but he’s also very aware of what works for him. We don’t want him throwing his fourth-best pitch if that might be what you’re supposed to be throwing to a particular hitter. There’s probably a balance with guys like him.”
Luckily, Jonathan Lucroy, who caught Fiers in Milwaukee, will be behind the plate. Melvin said the team wanted Fiers to be comfortable, and there’s been no better security blanket for the staff this year than the veteran backstop Lucroy, who knows Fiers’ strengths and weaknesses.
“That’s a nice resource to have,” Melvin said. “It’s always nice to know when you have a pitch in your head and the catcher puts it down, there’s a lot more conviction in that. Their relationship, I think, will be key.”
Jeurys Familia and Blake Treinen are both available to pitch out of the bullpen on Wednesday. Melvin said the A’s have a “pretty full” bullpen, thanks to what Emilio Pagan gave them last night, with a 2 1/3-inning outing after a season-short 2 2/3-inning start from Sean Manaea. Yusmeiro Petit will also be limited, after throwing two innings.
“You try to keep guys fresh over the course of the season,” Melvin said. “As much as we use the bullpen, it looks like on paper we can stop the game in the fifth inning if we have to, but when you won as many games as you have, it means these guys have pitched a lot. You do have to stagger who you have on a particular night.”
The other pitcher the A’s acquired after the deadline — Shawn Kelley — made his Oakland debut on Tuesday, going 2/3 of an inning and walking one. With a full bullpen, the A’s would go to Lou Trivino in the seventh, Familia in the eighth and Treinen in the ninth, but the rest of the bullpen doesn’t have such clearly-defined roles, including Kelley, who threw in the sixth.
“The tougher conversations are like with a Kelley, who’s used to pitching a little bit later in the game,” Melvin said. “I talked to him yesterday, and he said, ‘I don’t care when I pitch; I just want to help.’ That’s good to hear.”
Jed Lowrie told NBC Sports Bay Area on Tuesday that his legs still aren’t under him, after a collision at AT&T Park before the All-Star Game. There have been talks about giving him days off, but Lowrie — and his ability to work the count, identify tendencies and play steady defense — are too important to sit for any length of time.
“We’ve given him some day games off, and I communicate with him all the time, and he wants to play,” Melvin said. “He wants to be out there, especially in the position that we’re in. Whether or not he’s 100 percent with his legs — probably not — but he’s still a really good option for us.”
Since the All-Star break, Lowrie has hit .150 with just one home run and six RBIs in 16 games, with five runs scored and a .195 batting average on balls in play. In the first half, Lowrie hit .285 with 16 home runs and 62 RBIs in 94 games.
“Everybody’s going to have some periods during the season where they struggle some, but he’s still a guy for us, with the numbers he put up in the first half,” Melvin said. He’ll get it going back again, and I think he’s starting to see the other side of maybe the leg issues that he’s been having.”
Matt Chapman, hitting second again on Wednesday, and in 14 games batting second this season, he’s done some of his best work. Chapman has hit .278 when batting second, with four doubles, a triple and three home runs. Most importantly, he has a .381 OPS. The only spot in the lineup Chapman performs better in is the seven-hole. He’s hitting .371 with a 1.122 OPS hitting seventh, with four homers, six doubles and two triples.
“You want to get some of your best hitters up there as many times as you can,” Melvin said. “In a lot of places, the two hole’s the new three hole, or the three hole’s the […] whatever it is. The three’s the new two. It means he’s done a really nice job. We kind of spoon fed him up, and got him to the point where he’s comfortable in the two spot. He’s going to be there for quite a bit.”
The Dodgers snapped an eight-game losing streak dating back to 2001 at the Oakland Coliseum with a 4-2 win on Tuesday night, and but are still just 12-20 against the A’s since the advent of interleague play in 1997.
Kershaw, himself, hasn’t won any of his three career starts against Oakland, but has allowed just two earned runs in 20 2/3 innings of work.
Ramon Laureano — who burst on the scene with an impressive major league debut last week — is starting in center field, given the left-handed Kershaw, and didn’t show much in the way of emotion when faced with the prospect.
“He’s just another guy for me,” he said, as Khris Davis chided him for wearing a silver necklace around his neck, and not yet having a gold chain.
“You’re a big leaguer, now,” Davis said.
“I haven’t gotten my paycheck,” Laureano replied.
“He’s got 12 at-bats in the big leagues, so he’s an excitable guy right now,” Melvin said. “He wants to be in the lineup. He’s gotten off to a good start, which is great, especially for a younger guy, his first time at the big league level. He plays with a lot of excitement, and a lot of passion for what he does, and he’s very athletic … he’s a guy we’re looking to get in the lineup nowadays.”