Betts, Boston avoid sweep
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
A tough start to the season got even tougher for Milwaukee Brewers closer Neftali Feliz on Thursday afternoon.
The right-hander surrendered a three-run home run to Mookie Betts in the ninth inning, allowing the Boston Red Sox to escape Miller Park with a 4-1 victory and denying the Brewers a chance to improve to 5-0 in interleague play.
Feliz's travails ruined what was otherwise a solid day on the mound by Milwaukee pitchers. Starter Jimmy Nelson struck out a season-high-tying eight over 6 2/3 innings and Corey Knebel followed him with a hard-nosed 1 1/3-inning stint of relief.
Feliz dug a quick hole in the ninth by walking No. 8 hitter Christian Vázquez. Pinch-hitter Deven Marrero followed with a bunt that Feliz fielded, but Orlando Arcia dropped his throw to second base, leaving two on for Betts.
Having already crushed Milwaukee pitching in the series, Betts deposited a 97-mph fastball from Feliz well into the left-field seats to give Boston a 4-1 lead.
It was the fifth homer of the season allowed by Feliz in 16 innings. He's 8 for 9 in save opportunities but has not fared well when entering tie games, as he did Thursday. He took the loss to drop to 0-4, and his ERA stands at an ugly 6.19.
“Neftali is struggling right now,” said manager Craig Counsell. “That's a big spot. It's the biggest spot in the game.”
Boston reliever Craig Kimbrel, who got the last two outs in the eighth, made quick work of the Brewers in the bottom of the ninth.
The Red Sox grabbed the lead three batters into the game as Betts doubled to lead off, moved up to third on a Dustin Pedroia bunt and scored when Jesús Aguilar couldn't handle a chopper to first by Xander Bogaerts.
Nelson allowed runners in each of the next four innings but each time prevented further damage, with double-play balls in the third and fifth helping. Nelson's first and only 1-2-3 inning came in the sixth.
On the other side, left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez rolled through the Brewers lineup.
He gave up only a double to Keon Broxton through five innings, and he had retired 13 straight until Manny Piña singled to open the bottom of the sixth.
Nelson bunted Piña up to second with one out, and Jonathan Villar followed with a run-scoring double to left to knot the score at 1-1.
After surrendering a leadoff single in the seventh Nelson recorded the next two outs before departing in favor of Knebel, who struck out Betts on eight pitches. Nelson fell 1/3 of an inning short of tying his season high, and his 106 pitches set a new high-water mark.
The outing was a great follow-up to Nelson's frustrating three-inning, rain-shortened start last time out in Pittsburgh—a game that lasted only slightly longer than the delay and ended in a 4-0 shutout at the hands of the Pirates.
“Both starters were excellent,” Counsell said. “We were having a hard time against Rodriguez. His changeup was very effective.
“Jimmy was pitching very well. … It felt like a game that runs were going to be pretty tough to come by.”
Knebel used a herculean effort to get himself out of trouble in the eighth.
After allowing a double and single to start, he got Andrew Benintendi to pop out. Mitch Moreland walked to load the bases, and Knebel responded by striking out both Jackie Bradley Jr. and Rutledge to maintain the tie.
Knebel got Rutledge with a 96-mph fastball and then stalked off the mound with a roar and a fist pump, an animated response for the normally understated Texan.
He threw a career-high 41 pitches while lowering his ERA to an even 1.00.
Might he potentially supplant Feliz as closer? Not at this point, says Counsell.
“Corey is doing exactly what we want him to do,” he said. “The flexibility we have with him, using him in different situations, has been very effective. My preference is to be flexible with Corey.
“He's getting some of the biggest outs of the game. He did today. He went through the toughest part of their lineup and got four outs.”
The Brewers got a runner on in the ninth when Arcia walked with one out, bringing pinch-hitter Eric Thames to the plate. Boston manager John Farrell countered with Kimbrel, who fanned both Thames and Broxton with 98-mph fastballs.
Behind the box score
n Ryan Braun and Thames were both out of the lineup. Braun already had been scheduled for an off day before straining his left calf in Wednesday's game. Thames hadn't had an off day since April 11, the Brewers' first road game.
n Utility man Nick Franklin entered the day as the only Brewers player with any previous experience against Rodriguez (2 for 2), but he wasn't in the lineup.
n Broxton is hitting .375 with two homers, seven RBI and a .444 on-base percentage after hitting .119 with two stolen bases over his first 14 games.
n Knebel now has at least one strikeout in each of his 19 appearances this season (18 innings, 29 strikeouts). He's the only reliever in the majors with at least one strikeout in every appearance (minimum 15).
Last updated: 8:36 pm Thursday, May 11, 2017