Many Brewers fans no doubt cringed with the talk that a possible replacement for injured righty starter Marco Estrada was none other than lefty Manny Parra, a pitcher with a lot of potential but one who has failed to pitch with any consistency as a MLB starter. Parra has been serviceable, at times even good, as a bullpen pitcher when healthy. A return to the rotation could have been a disaster. With righthander Michael Fiers’s promotion from Nashville to fill in for Estrada, though, that scenario was avoided.
Fiers’s first MLB start was a dominating 7-inning outing against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium in which he pounded the strike zone ferociously, throwing over 70 percent of his pitches for strikes. Fiers did not fare nearly as well in his second start Sunday at Miller Park. He allowed four earned runs in only five innings of work, gave up eight hits including two home runs, and threw 12 more pitches than in Los Angeles. He did, however, show some signs that he could be an effective 5th starter in the majors. He notched eight strikeouts Sunday, and his release point has been compared to Diamondback Josh Collmenter’s deceptive axe-throwing overhead delivery. He likely has higher upside as a starter than does Estrada, and probably deserves a shot to continue in the rotation beyond Estrada’s projected return date, whether that’s late June or whenever.
I’m not sure what the organization has in mind when Estrada returns from a quadriceps strain suffered May 23 running the bases against San Francisco. But Fiers will get more opportunities to prove himself while Estrada is out, and a case can be made that Fiers should stick around in the rotation for the foreseeable future. Top prospect Wily Peralta has stumbled at Nashville, posting a record of 1-7 with a 6.83 ERA. Estrada, meanwhile, has been just OK in his 2012 rotation stint. He has filled in admirably, if unspectacularly, in terms of short notice, and provided the team with mediocre but tolerable outings as a starter. A team that lost Chris Narveson for the year so early in the season couldn’t be blamed too much for going with Estrada as a replacement starter, at least at first.
Estrada was already on the major league roster and filled in quite adequately in 2011 when Zack Greinke was out with the basketball blues. But Fiers can probably replicate Estrada’s production in the rotation while Estrada, when healthy, could return to his previous role as a key bullpen swingman. Estrada, thus far, is 0-3 with a 4.50 ERA in 36 innings pitched, which includes six games started. Fiers, in an admittedly tiny sample size with only 12 innings pitched, has similar numbers so far. Estrada’s splits aren’t very striking but the fewer batters he faces, the less an opposing team will get a good look at his pitches.
Estrada’s maximum value is in the bullpen, where the team can utilize his skills more often. He is better in short situations, pitching an inning or two, maybe more. Due to his swingman history, he is very flexible and can be used depending on what the day’s action dictates. Not limited to just one inning or another, Estrada is a very valuable bullpen arm because he doesn’t get pigeonholed so much by manager Ron Roenicke’s role system, in which pitchers ideally have a certain job and inning they handle on a daily basis.
Estrada can come in for any inning, and he is liable to throw strikes for the most part. Estrada has produced one quality start in five chances (not including the start during which he was injured). When the team has a replacement starter who can also be a useful bullpen piece and has experience pitching pretty effectively out of the bullpen, I think you stick with the players’ strengths. They should at least capitalize on the versatility Estrada provides. It makes sense to use this opportunity to see what Fiers can do at the major league level.
The Brewers bullpen has veered chaotically between taxed incompetence and sharp efficiency, and having a guy like Estrada back in the pen would allow other pitchers to get more of a break here and there. Would you rather have Estrada back as a fifth starter or stick with Fiers? Or would you rather see the organization try to nab someone from the outside, like Jeff Francis?