Brewers' bullpen blows another lead in loss
They've lost too many games that they should have won.
For the second time in three days, set-up man LaTroy Hawkins failed to protect an eighth-inning lead Friday night as the Washington Nationals rallied for three runs to pull out a 5-3 victory.
The Brewers' bullpen has blown four leads in the eighth inning or later in the last seven games, three of which turned into discouraging defeats. Hang onto those margins and you have a 7-3 record, and everyone's talking about the team's great start.
Instead, the Brewers are sitting at 4-6 and shaking their heads, wondering if this is the way it's going to be this season.
"Three wins going the other way would be nice," admitted manager Ken Macha, whose club has lost the opener of all four series it has played.
"I think when it's all said and done, the bullpen is going to pitch better than that."
When Hawkins pitched shutout ball in his first four outings, Macha noted that the veteran right-hander was making him veer from the past pattern of going with bullpen match-ups. Instead, Macha decided to commit to Hawkins as his eighth-inning man.
Now, Macha is having second thoughts, and understandably so. Hawkins blew a three-run lead Wednesday in Chicago, surrendering four runs with two outs. This time, he turned a one-run advantage into a two-run defeat.
"Way too soon," Hawkins said of his second failure.
It didn't help that Alberto Gonzalez led off the inning with a chopper to third that he beat out for a hit. Hawkins then exacerbated the situation by hitting Josh Willingham with a pitch.
After Ian Desmond bunted the runners up, the Brewers brought in their infield, and Adam Kennedy took advantage by bouncing a ball past first baseman Prince Fielder for a two-run single. Kennedy then swiped second and scored on a single by Wil Nieves.
"You create your own luck," Hawkins said of the grounders that went for hits. "You've got to get the job done. I didn't get the job done."
Hawkins was having trouble with shoulder stiffness as the regular season began but said that was not the reason for his back-to-back failures.
"I'm feeling great," he said. "The last two times out, I had no pain. That's the part that's frustrating. I'm just not getting the job done. It will get better."
Another late-inning collapse wasted a solid effort by starter Yovani Gallardo, not to mention an economical and remarkably effective one-pitch outing by reliever Claudio Vargas. Gallardo, still winless through three starts, limited the Nationals to two runs over six innings before the pitch count (107) prompted his exit.
Gallardo's only regret was a 2-2 fastball in the sixth that Willingham pounded out to left to tie the game, 2-2. The Brewers had scored twice off effective Washington starter John Lannan on Casey McGehee's leadoff, opposite-field homer in the second and Corey Hart's RBI single in the fifth.
"I'd rather have that mistake back to Willingham," said Gallardo, who allowed six hits and four walks while striking out five. "I was trying to go away and it came back over the plate.
"Other than that, I felt pretty good. Unfortunately, we didn't get a win. It's tough, but we can't get down too much. We've got another game (Saturday). It's a long season."
After the Nationals put runners on the corners off Manny Parra with one down in the seventh, Vargas took over and induced Cristian Guzman to offer at the first pitch and bounce into a double play. The Brewers then took the lead in the eighth off reliever Brian Bruney on Gregg Zaun's sacrifice fly.
The damage could have been greater after McGehee (3 for 4) led off with a single and Gonzalez threw away Carlos Gomez's bunt to put runners on second and third with no outs. But after Zaun's sacrifice fly, Willingham charged in from left to make a diving catch of Alcides Escobar's flare, then doubled off Gomez, running all the way.
As it turns out, another run wouldn't have mattered.
"We've had some tough losses early on," said Hawkins. "But we're not going to get discouraged. We're going to keep battling.
"It happened in back-to-back games. Kind of weird, but I accept it. I just didn't get the job done. We'll get back out there tomorrow."