Brewers have bushed bullpen
Little wonder that manager Ken Macha looked forward to the day off Thursday.
“Hopefully, with the day off, everybody can rest up and get some order back in the bullpen and get some outs,” said Macha.
Judging by how the Atlanta Braves cut through the Brewers’ relief corps—think hot knife and soft butter—it might take more than one day off. After getting swept by the Braves in ugly fashion, 9-2, on Wednesday afternoon at Miller Park, what the Brewers really need is a series of longer outings from their starting rotation.
The starters are averaging just under six innings per outing, and the overworked bullpen obviously no longer can cover the remaining innings without great carnage. During the three games, the Braves battered the Brewers’ relievers for 20 hits, seven walks and 17 runs in 9 1/3 innings (16.40 ERA).
The next time pitching coach Rick Peterson calls down to the bullpen, he might get a busy signal.
“It’s been a little bit of an epidemic throughout the series,” said Macha, whose club fell to 4-11 at home, its worst start ever at Miller Park.
“It’s not just one or two guys. It’s everybody out there.”
All three games played out in Groundhog Day fashion. The score was tied or close in the sixth inning, only to have the starting pitcher exit and the relievers arrive with pockets full of nitroglycerin.
Don’t forget that the Braves came to town with a 5-14 record on the road, losers of 11 of their last 13 away from home, during which they hit a grand total of three home runs. Against the Brewers’ arm-weary relievers, Atlanta’s previously punchless attack morphed into Murderers Row.
Starter Yovani Gallardo held things in check for six innings, allowing five hits and two runs before an old nemesis—the pitch count—forced his departure. Gallardo needed 108 pitches to record those 18 outs, including a burdensome sixth when seven hitters came to the plate.
Considering what happened in the fourth inning, Gallardo felt fortunate to make it that far. Jason Heyward smoked a liner that struck just above Gallardo’s left ankle so hard that it caromed to third baseman Casey McGehee, who fired to first for the out.
“I’m glad it didn’t hit the bone itself,” said Gallardo. “It’s a little stiff right now, but it’ll get better. I was a little uncomfortable but no problems really.
“Every starter here wants to go nine innings every start. The bullpen has been used quite a lot. The deeper we go in games, the better. We’re all trying to do that.”
A run-scoring single by Jim Edmonds and an RBI double by McGehee allowed the Brewers to tie the game off Atlanta starter Derek Lowe in the sixth. The chance for a bigger rally died when Jody Gerut was thrown out trying to steal third base with McGehee batting, a move that Macha termed “ill-advised.”
It only got ugly after that. Left-hander Manny Parra, against whom left-handed hitters are batting .500 (13 for 26), surrendered an RBI double to Heyward and run-scoring single by Brian McCann in the seventh.
Carlos Villanueva, who allowed one run over his first 15 appearances but four runs Tuesday night against the Braves, served up a two-run homer to Brooks Conrad in the eighth. Conrad, who entered the series with no homers or RBI, also had homered off Villanueva the previous evening.
Realizing the rest of the bullpen was running on fumes, closer Trevor Hoffman told Macha he would pitch an inning no matter the score. Thus, he took over in the ninth and allowed two hits, two walks and three runs, ballooning his already atrocious ERA to 12.00.
Beyond the bloodied bullpen, the Brewers mounted little offense against the Braves as leftfielder Ryan Braun remained sidelined with a bruised, swollen left elbow and Prince Fielder’s power motor continued to idle.
As for the continued woeful play at home, McGehee said, “I don’t think anyone can explain why we can’t get wins at home.
“It’s not going to get any easier from here. We’ve got Philadelphia coming in next. They’re one of the best teams in the National League. We better figure something out.
“We’ve got the off day to recharge our batteries. We can’t panic. Obviously, we’ve been in this situation a couple of times this year.”
We won’t roll over and die.”