MILWAUKEE (AP) — Mike Fiers walked around the clubhouse in a workout shirt featuring the patriotic shield of cartoon character Captain America on his chest.
The Milwaukee Brewers pitcher isn't quite that invincible, though it has sure felt that way when he has taken the mound the last couple weeks.
In three starts since stepping into the rotation for the National League Central leaders, the right-hander is 3-0 with a 0.86 ERA. Fiers has 25 strikeouts and three walks in that span.
"With him, that deception is probably the No. 1 reason why he's so tough to hit, why he can throw a fastball right down the middle at 89, 90 and have a swing and miss," manager Ron Roenicke said. "Other guys can't do it."
Sounds good to Fiers, though he's not consciously trying to be deceptive.
"Yeah, I think my college days I started hearing that I was deceptive, and guys couldn't really pick up the ball out of my hand," said Fiers before Wednesday's 9-5 loss to Toronto.
The Brewers, who were off Thursday, begin a key three-game series Friday at home against Pittsburgh. Fiers' next start comes Sunday in that series.
While Fiers appreciates the talk about his throwing motion, "I don't really want to hear that too much. Keeping the ball down, I can't just throw the ball," he said. "I've still got to focus on what I've got to do. You know, the deception ... it helps."
And Fiers has helped the Brewers immensely since Matt Garza went down with a strained muscle in his rib cage.
After an inconsistent first two months, Garza had a 2.52 ERA and held opponents to a .205 average in 12 starts since June 2. He got hurt after tossing six scoreless innings Aug. 3 against St. Louis.
In stepped Fiers to join solid rotation that doesn't feature a true ace, though he been pitching like one. The highlight was a 14-strikeout effort last week against the Chicago Cubs.
After a tough 2013, Fiers was 8-5 with a 2.55 ERA in 17 starts in Nashville, and made four relief appearances this June with the Brewers.
Until this month, Fiers' previous big league start was on June 2, 2013, when he gave up seven runs in 1 2/3 innings to the Phillies. He broke his arm nearly two weeks later in Triple-A, ending his season.
Fiers' future looked bright after making 22 starts in the majors in 2012, going 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA with 135 strikeouts in 127 2/3 innings.
Fiers said he needed his Triple-A stint to prove that he could be consistent enough again to help the parent club in a pennant race.
"For me, I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing. I'm not trying to figure out exactly what I'm doing. But just pitching the same way I've always pitched," Fiers said.
If his deception was so good, Fiers noted, he would just throw all fastballs. He still has to mix pitches and keep hitters off balance.
Garza is expected to be inserted right back into the rotation when he returns, likely early next month. Roenicke said the Brewers haven't started talking yet about what to do with Fiers when Garza is ready.
"We'll see what happens," Roenicke said. "He's going to be back in the rotation, so we'll see how it is when it comes to that."
Another veteran starter, Kyle Lohse, appears likely to return from an ankle injury during a road trip next week to San Diego and San Francisco. Rookie Jimmy Nelson doesn't appear to be on an innings restriction after being called up in July.
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