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Mound problems pile up for Brewers

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Tom Haudricourt
April 20, 2010
— In an attempt to lighten the mood after a couple of weeks of trying times for his staff, Milwaukee Brewers pitching coach Rick Peterson gathered the troops Sunday to present a new forecast.

“I told our guys I just looked at The Weather Channel, and a glove-hitting front just came in,” Peterson said.


If only Mother Nature could be so helpful.


The first two weeks of the season were grim for the Brewers’ pitching staff, which was counted on by club officials to be improved after the woeful 2009 campaign. Milwaukee’s pitchers rank last in the league in opponents batting average (.302), hits allowed (125) and home runs (19).


In the National League, Milwaukee’s 6.06 earned run average ranks ahead of only Washington and Pittsburgh, both at 6.34. The Brewers also are 14th in allowing 14.4 men on base per nine innings.


Rather than believe those first 12 games are an indicator of a long, tough season ahead for his staff, Peterson looks at how close some of his pitchers are to turning things around. He has watched a high number of two-out, two-strike hits deliver runs for opponents, and he views that as easily correctable.


“When you give up a lot of runs with two outs, that’s the easiest thing to get back on track,” said Peterson, who signed a two-year deal in the offseason to improve the team’s pitching. “The same thing with giving up hits at


0-2.


“Other than isolated instances, we’re not really walking a lot of guys (38 in 104 innings). That means we’re giving up a lot of hits after we’ve gotten ahead in the count, 0-1, 0-2. When you look at games where you’re giving up six or seven runs, it’s not 15 or 20 pitches. It’s three or four pitches.


“I’ve had staffs go through times like this over the course of the season, not necessarily at the start of the season. When you look at the process, you say we’re this close. When you’re in that position, you realize you’re one executed pitch away from minimizing so much damage.


“That’s the good news. Now the key is making that pitch.”


Which has been a problem all too often, for both starters and relievers. In 12 games, starting pitchers have produced just four quality starts (at least six innings, no more than three earned runs), including two by winless Yovani Gallardo.


On the other end, relievers have blown five of eight save opportunities. On days when the starters have done their job, the bullpen has failed. And vice versa.


Peterson acknowledges his pitching staff has been out of sync, which he does not consider an incurable malady.


“What compounds that is you’ve got everybody trying too hard to be the guy to turn this around,” said Peterson. “There’s a big difference between trying your best and doing your best. You need to relax and execute your pitches to the glove.


“It’s very difficult to be extraordinary for seven straight months. I asked guys, ’How does the scoreboard look when we execute quality pitches with our normal stuff?’ So let’s get back to the basics of hitting the glove instead of trying to throw the nastiest breaking balls. It’s really trying to keep it simple.”


Keeping the ball in the park has been a distinct shortcoming for Brewers’ pitchers, also. In an 11-7 victory Sunday over Washington, they made it from start to finish without allowing a home run for the first time this season.


Starters had allowed at least one homer in each of the first 11 games, smashing the previous club mark of seven games (2001) to begin a season.


“That’s a concern,” admitted Peterson. “It shows you’re making mistakes in the strike zone. Those pitches are middle, middle (horizontally and vertically in the strike zone).


“Guys in this league are really good at hitting middle, middle. You don’t get away with that. Everybody in the big leagues is good in the middle of the strike zone. You can’t survive there.


“When you look at the art of pitching, it’s a target-hitting skill. In our bullpens, our guys make these pitches. You expect them to make them in the games because they can make them in practice. That tells you it’s a concentration issue.”


Peterson also reminded his staff that they haven’t had the best of luck in some key situations, with swinging bunts, bloopers and sun-lost balls dropping in for damaging hits.


“It’s the nature of this game,” he said. “I told our guys, ‘Don’t buy any lottery tickets right now. Your luck’s not good.’ ”


Peterson figures his staff is one well-pitched game away from reversing the two-week trend. Considering the Brewers have allowed at least five runs in nine consecutive games, a good time to start would be Tuesday night in the opener of a three-game series in Pittsburgh.


In the meantime, Peterson has done his best to keep morale high.


“I think overall it’s good,” he said. “I’ve talked to guys individually. We have a good support group. Everybody is in a great mood and slapping each other on the back when things are going good.


“Willie Stargell told me years ago you really judge a person’s character when things aren’t going good. If you can maintain your dignity and character and make sure we’re all here to support each other, that’s what matters.”


Tom Haudricourt writes for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.



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