Reds rattle Johnny Hellweg
MILWAUKEE—In a perfect world, a pitching prospect would come up to the major leagues and have everything go his way from the outset.
Call it The Jose Fernandez Experience.
It seldom goes that smoothly, however, as Johnny Hellweg can attest. The Milwaukee Brewers’ rookie right-hander struggled in the early going Saturday at Miller Park, and the Cincinnati Reds went on to a 7-3 victory important in their bid to hang on to the second wild-card spot in the National League.
“It’s definitely an adjustment process, getting everything to come together,” said Hellweg, up from the minors for the second time this season. “I feel like it’s getting better, day to day.
“There’s a little bit of nerves. It’s just getting comfortable. I don’t think it’s going to come overnight like I want it to. I’m going to have to go out there and keep grinding through it.”
A dominant pitcher at Class AAA Nashville who was named Pacific Coast League pitcher of the year, Hellweg had a horrible first experience with the Brewers, posting a 10.97 earned run average in four games (three starts). He took a definite step forward last time out in Chicago, holding the Cubs to three runs in six innings.
This time, the 6-foot-9 Hellweg had trouble settling in. He allowed three hits, a walk and a sacrifice fly in the first inning and was fortunate to escape with only two runs on the board.
With one down in the second, he hit Reds starting pitcher Homer Bailey with a pitch—the first of three plunkings for Hellweg—and Shin-Soo Choo followed with a booming homer to center. Command has always been the issue for Hellweg when he struggles, but he calmed down and battled through three scoreless innings after that.
“I was glad he got through the third, fourth and fifth,” said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke. “And I think it was important for him to do that. But the first two innings were tough again. His command was all over.
“He still got in a little bit of trouble after that, but he settled down. All of his issues are going to be command. When he started throwing the ball well and keeping the ball down, he gets outs.”
Hellweg has exhibited a calm demeanor thus far, but Roenicke said that doesn’t mean nerves aren’t a factor.
“There’s obviously a lot of different pressures here than the minor leagues,” said Roenicke. “That’s what guys have to overcome. You just hope the guy has enough confidence in what he did this year to bring it up here and show you the same thing.”
Bailey had just one hiccup during his seven-inning stint—a three-run fourth inning that allowed the Brewers back in the game. Khris Davis returned from a wrist injury to double in a run, Carlos Gomez singled in another and Jeff Bianchi chipped in with a sacrifice fly.
After Joey Votto crushed a home run high off the right-field foul pole off Michael Blazek in the sixth inning, the Brewers had one last chance to make a game of it. They loaded the bases with two down in the eighth, prompting Reds manager Dusty Baker to summon hard-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman, who struck out pinch hitter Jonathan Lucroy.
The last time those two clashed at Miller Park on Aug. 16, Lucroy hit a walk-off, two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth. Hitting Chapman is tough enough, much less coming off the bench to do so, but Lucroy made no excuses.
“I don’t like striking out with the bases loaded,” said Lucroy, who otherwise was getting a day of rest. “I don’t care who is on the mound pitching. I hate striking out.”
As for Hellweg, he’ll get thrown into the fire next time out again with a scheduled start against St. Louis. His goal is to build off his last three innings and forget about the first two.
“There were some positives and some negatives,” said Hellweg, who was upset about hitting three batters. “I feel like I battled pretty decent. I got in some trouble early then put up a few zeros. I had more out there, but I felt I was good getting through five (innings).
“I’m definitely confident in myself, but it’s just adjusting. I feel like it’s getting better every time I go out there. It’s not coming as quick as I’d like it to.”