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A’s give Mike Fiers Opening Day nod, pitching plans for Japan

MESA, Ariz. — Mike Fiers was always the logical choice to start Opening Day for the A’s and now it has been made official.
Before the A’s took on the Brewers Saturday afternoon manager Bob Melvin announced that Fiers will kick off the 2019 regular season. The right-hander will take the mound March 20 for the first of two games against the Seattle Mariners at the Tokyo Dome in Japan which will count as regular season games.
“Just trying to set the tone for this team and get ourselves off on the right foot, I love the opportunity,” Fiers said. “I can’t wait.”
Fiers certainly set the tone for the A’s during last year’s playoff run. He combined to go 12-8 with a 3.56 ERA in 30 starts with the Tigers and A’s, providing a boost they needed after Sean Manaea was lost for the season with an injury.
Fiers was the A’s best pitcher during their playoff run after he was acquired via trade in August, compiling a 3.74 ERA in nine starts. The A’s won eight of those starts.
“It turned out to be really big because that’s what you hope for when you bring a guy in,” Melvin said. “It seemed every game he went out there, we won. For a team in a position we were, that ended up being a huge pick up.”
Melvin had discussed the possibility of starting Opening Day with Fiers last week. Fiers had been hoping to get the opportunity all spring , and it was confirmed with him during Friday’s game against the Padres.
“He got a big smile on his face,” Melvin said of Fiers’ reaction to the news. “With the guys we have, he’s the man for the job.”
Fiers, 33, has never been tabbed as Opening Day starter in his eight big league seasons but has been on teams with some pretty good ones. Dallas Keuchel, Zack Greinke, Yovani Gallardo, Justin Verlander and Jordan Zimmermann are among the pitchers who have gotten the nod while Fiers was one of their teammates.
As he prepares to lead the A’s into their first game of the season, Fiers plans to integrate a little bit of what he learned from each of those pitchers into his mentality to handle the role.
“They were just very calm and collective. Just confident about themselves and were able to treat it like any other day,” Fiers said. “It’s a special day. It’s day one of the season and we have high hopes. But I just have to not get too high or overwhelmed with the situation.”
“One guy on each team gets to start the season. You’re one of thirty guys. That’s really cool.”
Being the “No. 1 guy” in the rotation won’t change Fiers too much. Whether it was pitching for the Brewers, Astros, Tigers or A’s he’s always carried the confidence of what a frontline starter should carry each time he’s gone out on the mound.
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“Every time I go out I feel like our team has the best chance to win,” Fiers said. “I don’t think it’s about what order I’m in or what day I’m pitching. Whatever day I’m out there, (the A’s) have the confidence that I’m going to give a quality start and give us a chance to win.”
— Marco Estrada will get the start in the second Japan game against the Mariners.
Before those two regular season games, the A’s will also play two exhibition games against the Japanese club Nippon Ham Fighters starting March 18. Melvin is expecting to go with an all-reliever game for the first exhibition but unsure how he’ll approach the second.
The A’s active roster for the Japan trip will likely be missing some of their starting pitchers aside from Fiers and Estrada in favor of more bullpen arms. Pitchers like Brett Anderson, Daniel Mengden and whoever wins the fifth starter job could likely remain in Arizona and rejoin the active roster once the A’s resume their regular season later in the month.
— Matt Olson found himself in the No. 3 spot of the lineup Saturday. Melvin said Olson and Stephen Piscotty are the leading candidates for that spot in the lineup for the regular season and will be switched around the order based on the opposing pitcher on a certain day.

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