Cardinals avoid sweep
It wouldn't seem possible for a 20-8 team to be at a crisis point on the personnel front this early but that was the case Wednesday afternoon for the Milwaukee Brewers at Busch Stadium.
An already overworked bullpen had to cover five more innings after starter Matt Garza went only three before exiting with a bruised pitching thumb. It was the last thing the Brewers needed after going extra innings in the first two games of the series against St. Louis.
Manager Ron Roenicke had no choice but to go to seldom-used Rule 5 draft pick Wei-Chung Wang, whose inexperience was exploited by the Cardinals in a 9-3 victory. And, before day was done, backup catcher Martin Maldonado was on the mound.
That's what you call a crisis.
“We all know Maldy has a great arm and wants to go out there and throw 95 (mph) but my worst fear is that he does that and hurts his arm,” said Roenicke, who instructed Maldonado not to throw as hard as he could.
The Cardinals were able to salvage the final game of the series after two excruciating, hard-fought losses. While the Brewers took a rare series triumph over St. Louis and sported the best record in the majors, roster issues loomed.
Garza suffered the bruised thumb when he was jammed on a broken-bat groundout in the top of the fourth. But he already was having a tough day when he exited in the bottom of the inning.
It took Garza 76 pitches to get through the first three innings, and he departed in the fourth with St. Louis on top, 4-3, a runner on and no outs. The Cards quickly took advantage of the inexperienced Wang, scoring twice that inning to go on top, 6-3. It only got more ugly from there.
“We were hoping (Garza) could go deep,” said Roenicke. “He just wasn't putting guys away. The balls that were hit well were pretty much over the middle of the plate. I thought his stuff was OK. I don't know if it was location or what it was.”
Roenicke made it clear in the past he was dead-set against using position players to pitch unless absolutely necessary. After Wang departed, Roenicke used left-hander Zach Duke for an inning but didn't want to use another reliever with the game out of hand.
“We can get back strong again in our bullpen if we have a couple of good games,” said Roenicke. “Just like it goes bad for one day, you can get it back with a couple of good days.”
Garza was given a 3-1 lead courtesy of a two-run home run by Mark Reynolds in the second inning and a one-out homer by Carlos Gomez in the third. But the Cardinals quickly turned the tables on him when first baseman Matt Adams ripped a curveball for a three-run homer in the bottom of the third and the Brewers never led again.
“I thought it was a decent pitch,” said Roenicke. “We've been throwing him curveballs and we've been OK with him. I was surprised when he hit that ball.”
Garza vowed to be ready for his next start despite the bruised thumb but made it clear he wasn't happy with his showing before the injury.
“I knew the bullpen was thin. I told them I was fine (to keep pitching),” said Garza, now 1-3 with a 5.00 ERA in six starts. “Then they had me throw a pitch and they felt different. It just sucks.
“I don't know if it's me fighting myself or trying to do too much, but it needs to stop. I'm not happy. I'm really disappointed in myself. I'm going to figure it out and carry my weight on this team and do my part. Right now, I'm not. It's not something huge; it's maybe something small.
“There's no (thought) in my mind that I'm caving or anything like that. I'm just getting frustrated to the point where I want to keep going. Maybe slowing down is what I need to do.”
The good news was that the Brewers won the series and headed into May with 20 victories, a far better beginning than anyone could have imagined.
“It can turn and that's what we're trying to avoid,” said Roenicke. “To do well in this division we know how important our pitching staff is. The bullpen is huge for picking up the late innings. When you're winning games, you need to win them. You can't give up a lot of games late.
“My gosh, we're really happy with where we are. But things can change and I don't want it to happen to the pitching staff because we're overusing them.”