Brewers can be grateful for near-.500 record

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Tom Haudricourt, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Thursday, April 26, 2012
— While feeling their way through the first three weeks of the season, the Milwaukee Brewers have been out of sync much of the time.

The offense struggled for the longest time to put together rallies before finally showing some life lately. The starting pitching has been erratic, and one member—lefty Chris Narveson—already is gone for the season with a shoulder injury. The bullpen in front of late-inning relievers Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford has been a minefield.

All things considered, the Brewers’ record could be a lot worse than 9-10.

“We’ve been hovering around .500 and we’re still not playing very well,” rightfielder Corey Hart said Wednesday afternoon after the Brewers missed their chance for a sweep of the Houston Astros with a 7-5 loss at Miller Park.

“That shows what kind of team we can be. We have a lot of new faces; guys trying to find comfort levels. We’re still finding ways to win enough games to avoid getting buried. This is not what we want, but it could be a lot worse.

“As bad as we’ve played, we’re fortunate to be where we are.”

To make any type of early-season move in the NL Central, the No. 1 priority for the defending division champs is easy to pinpoint: They have to shore up the pitching.

The Brewers emerged from the loss to the scrappy Astros with a 4.88 team earned run average, the worst in the league. The starting rotation and bullpen have been equally porous, which played out again in the series finale when right-hander Shaun Marcum struggled for five innings and relievers Jose Veras and Mike McClendon let the game get away later.

Other than a 1-2-3 third inning, Marcum never could find a groove. Of the 28 hitters he faced, 13 reached base—eight hits, four walks and a hit batter—and it took 99 pitches to record 15 outs.

Marcum was not available for comment afterward but manager Ron Roenicke noted that his starting pitcher seemed out of sorts from the very outset.

“It was a fight,” said Roenicke. “I thought he had one real good inning where he looked like himself. His command was real good. I thought he would get it going but he didn’t.

“But you could see him frustrated out on the mound. His command wasn’t where it usually was. The ball was up in the (strike) zone a lot. But he kept us in the ball game and certainly gave us a chance to win.”

With Houston starter J.A. Happ also having his problems, the Brewers emerged from those first five innings in a 4-4 tie. Ryan Braun socked a two-run homer in the first inning, Travis Ishikawa led off the second with another and Happ wild-pitched a run across the plate in the third.

That left it to the bullpens, and Houston’s fared better. Veras allowed the go-ahead run in the seventh on a two-out single, a bouncer that Chris Snyder punched the other way past first base with the infield shifted to the left.

“Veras actually threw the ball well except for the double he gave up (to Brian Bogusevic with one down),” said Roenicke. “The ball that beat him down the line was an accident; it’s lucky. (Snyder) got beat by a fastball and blocked it off and hit it right down the first-base line.”

McClendon was roughed up much worse in the eighth, surrendering three consecutive base hits, including a two-run single by J.D. Martinez. Hart answered with a one-out homer in the bottom of the inning, but it wasn’t enough.

Roenicke has been unable to find the right bullpen combination in the sixth and seventh innings when his starting pitcher departs early and admitted he was still searching.

“The choices are what we have,” said Roenicke, whose team has been outscored, 97-87. “Those guys are going to get better. I have confidence they’re going to get better. They’ve got to have some good outings so they get confident.

“I feel like we’re giving up too many runs. Our starters, when they’re going right, they get deeper in games. Our pitch counts are getting close to 100 pitches in the fifth inning. That’s not the way our starters pitch. They’ll get better.

“In the bullpen, we have to figure out where we’re going, who is pitching well and who we can go to in a close ball game. And if it’s not that close, who do we go to that can keep it there and give our offense a chance to catch up? We’re not doing those things right now.

“Let’s see who steps up. Right now, I’m not exactly sure who those guys are.”

Last updated: 8:04 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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