MESA, Ariz. — When the A’s consider who will start Opening Night in Japan, Mike Fiers will be at the top of the list. That idea thrills the right-hander — he has watched former teammates such as Dallas Keuchel and Jordan Zimmermann take the ball to open the season, and he’d love to get the chance.
“That would be pretty cool,” Fiers said Wednesday at Hohokam Stadium. “I’ve been on some teams with some really good pitchers. … You kind of envy those guys. It shows you can pitch and that you can control your emotions. You can go out there the first day and not get too high or too low, be the pitcher you are and set the tone.”
Fiers, 33, is the second-oldest starter on the staff after recently acquired Marco Estrada, so his presence will be key.
“This a very young team and I’ve always been a guy whose tried to help young kids,” Fiers said.
Photo: Ben Margot / Associated Press
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He already has served as a teacher of sorts for one of the A’s youngest — and best — pitchers. Fiers was working at a baseball camp in Pompano Beach, Fla., that Jesus Luzardo attended as a 12-year-old.
“I remember working with him. I’m pretty sure I caught a couple of his bullpen sessions,” Fiers said. “You could definitely tell he had something. He was a chubby Spanish kid with glasses, but you could tell he could he could pitch. He looked pretty good at 12. I’m not saying I had anything to do with him, but I do remember him.”
The two could wind up in the rotation together sooner than later. Luzardo, 21, is in contention for a roster spot, though the recent additions of Estrada, 35, and Brett Anderson might allow the team to take more time with him.
Luzardo said he remembers Fiers, who already had a little big-league time at that point. “He was kind of an idol where I’m from,” Luzardo said. “And yeah, I was a little pudgy kid and I had on the same glasses I wear now during games. It was definitely an interesting look.”
Fiers did a nice job for Oakland last year after coming to the A’s in an Aug. 6 deal with Detroit, helping the A’s playoff push by going 5-2 with a 3.74 ERA in 10 appearances. The A’s went 8-1 in his starts and wound up with 97 wins overall.
“The fact remains, when he started games, we won a lot of them,” manager Bob Melvin said. “That’s the bottom line, for me.”
For that reason, it seemed a no-brainer that Fiers would be back this year; the A’s retained his rights for 2019. However, they non-tendered him Nov. 30 before re-signing him to a two-year, $14.1 million deal Dec. 24.
Fiers said the A’s were up front with him about the fact they wanted him to return.
“That was pretty much the message,” he said. “I think they enjoyed my time here and I liked being here as well. I had a fun two months and I thought we could have done a lot better with the talent here. So we’re starting a new year and we’ll try to get back where we were.
“Talent-wise, I think we have it. It’s all about playing together and from what I saw from playing against them and with them, this lineup is tough one through nine, and they play good defense and we have one of the best bullpens in the game. That’s one of the main reasons I came back.”
Fiers changed up his offseason routine, going to work with former Mets strength coach Mike Barwis, who hosts the Discovery Channel’s “American Muscle” show and who has a facility near Fiers’ home in Deerfield Beach, Fla.
“I love that guy,” Fiers said. “His background is in neurology. He worked with Michigan football. My main thing is being healthy, especially my back, and he really focuses on that because he works with people with spinal-cord injuries, people who are told they won’t walk again and they wind up walking again in a few years.
“I told him I wanted to be more flexible and to recover quicker, and I feel a lot better now. I threw a bullpen Monday and I felt great. You’ve just got to go with what works for your body.”
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/athletics/article/A-s-potential-Opening-Day-starter-Mike-Fiers-13614055.php.