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Brewers' Hoffman hits a new low

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Associated Press
May 19, 2010
— Ken Macha undoubtedly has decided he must try somebody else to protect leads in the ninth inning.

But it wouldn’t hurt if Trevor Hoffman walked into the office of the Milwaukee Brewers manager Wednesday and volunteered to fall on his sword.


With Hall of Fame-caliber players who appear to be at the end of the line — think Brett Favre blowing game after game with slews of interceptions — it always helps when all parties agree a change must be made. Otherwise, it gets messy for the man in charge.


Hoffman just might have run out of chances Tuesday with the most horrific meltdown of what has been a nightmarish season for him. Failing to retire any of the five hitters he faced, the all-time saves leader surrendered three runs in the bottom of the ninth to allow Cincinnati to pull out a 5-4 victory at Great American Ball Park.


The Brewers have experienced some crushing late-inning losses this season, but under the circumstances, this was the worst. It extended the team’s losing streak to eight games, ruined a brilliant Milwaukee debut by right-hander Marco Estrada and left nearly everyone wearing a Brewers uniform without an ounce of confidence in the bullpen.


“You’ve got to get 27 outs, not 24,” said Macha. “We’ve got to figure out what we’re doing. The whole bullpen has been doing that.


“They didn’t miss any pitches (in the ninth) today. That’s the tough part of this game. You play your heart out and get to the ninth inning and you’re not closing them off.”


The numbers tell the story as to how awful Hoffman has been. In 14 appearances, he has allowed 21 hits and seven walks over 13 innings, with only eight strikeouts. He is 1-3 with an atrocious 13.15 earned run average.


Hoffman has blown five of 10 save chances, one more failure than in all of 2009, when he had 41 opportunities. He has surrendered seven home runs, five more than he did in 55 appearances last season.


Hoffman was so brilliant (1.83 ERA, .183 opponents batting average) last year, the Brewers quickly re-signed him for $7.5 million with a mutual option for 2011 for $7 million. Now, everyone is wondering if he reached the end of the line with no warning.


Even Hoffman was at a loss for words when asked to explain his performance this season.


“I’m not getting things done,” said Hoffman, who remained four saves shy of 600 for his career after his 999th appearance. “I’m not getting outs. There’s not a whole lot to analyze about it. If there was an answer at this point in time, I think we would have found it.”


For years, Hoffman fooled hitters with a back-breaking changeup that allowed him to get by with a below-average fastball. But he’s not fooling anybody anymore. He lacked command of his changeup from the start of the season, which prompted him to use his fastball and get tagged.


Hoffman went back to using his changeup more but left it up against the Reds and paid a heavy price. It started with a base hit on a cutter to Paul Janish, followed by a game-tying, two-run homer by pinch-hitter Scott Rolen on a 1-2 changeup.


Chris Heisey doubled on a first-pitch cutter, Brandon Phillips drew a walk and Joey Votto lined a first-pitch changeup off the wall in right to end it. Rolen is 6 for 13 (.462) lifetime against Hoffman with four homers.


“He’s the all-time saves leader,” Rolen said. “I’ve seen the ball fairly well off him in the past, and I saw the ball well today. Imagine my surprise when I saw the ball going out of the park.


“You think the fans were shocked? I was shocked.”


But it has become less shocking with each blown save by Hoffman.


Hoffman’s collapse ruined a day in which lefty Manny Parra turned in four gritty innings in a spot start and the newly summoned Estrada held the first-place Reds to one run over the same span.


“Estrada pitched his heart out,” said Macha. “What a lift he gave us. We bring this kid up today and he just picks us up and carries us.”


Afterward, Macha was evasive when asked if Hoffman would be removed from the closer’s role, saying he wanted to discuss it with pitching coach Rick Peterson. There is no obvious Plan B because LaTroy Hawkins, who has closing experience, is on the disabled list.


Hoffman also dodged a question about his future.


“I can’t worry about that,” he said. “I feel prepared and ready to go out there. I’m just not getting it done.”


Which is why Macha must pull the plug. An unreliable bullpen already has put his job on the line.



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