Marco Estrada capped a brilliant second half of the season with an eight-inning gem.
By RYAN KARTJEFS Wisconsin
MILWAUKEE — When Chris Narveson's injury opened the door for Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Marco Estrada to finally become a starting pitcher, he insisted that he'd always thought like one, trying every game to get closer to that goal. He wouldn't let this opportunity be wasted, he said.
And while he got off to a slow start this season, Estrada capped a brilliant second half of the season with an eight-inning gem on Saturday night, striking out 11 and retiring his last 12 batters faced. It was the longest the former reliever had been in a game all season — the performance he had been waiting for, it seemed, to show the Brewers' brass that he truly does belong as a starter.
"To finish the regular season like that, it was amazing," Estrada said.
Through five innings, it wasn't apparent that it would end that way though, as Estrada struggled to establish command of his off-speed pitches. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke admitted afterwards that he thought Estrada would struggle to finish.
But after a clubhouse pep talk from pitching coach Rick Kranitz, Estrada relaxed on the mound. He had been pressing — it being his last start of the regular season and a do-or-die elimination game for the Brewers. And once he settled down, Estrada showed off his potential for next season in a true piece de resistance on the mound.
In his last eight games, Estrada turned it on — just as the Brewers' magical run began — with a 2.05 ERA in that span. He was striking out batters at a clip of 10.45 per nine innings to finish the season.
It was a conclusion that Estrada said proved to himself that he belongs. Whether that goes for the organization as well, that remains to be seen.
"For myself, yeah (I feel like I've proven myself)," Estrada said. "I hope they feel the same way. It's what I love to do and I want to keep doing it for a long time."
Although Estrada's finish to the season was especially good, he wasn't the only young Brewers pitcher to flash some serious potential. Young right-handers Mike Fiers, Mark Rogers, and Wily Peralta all seem to be in the plan next year with Estrada.
It could make a stressful spring training for those guys, but for the rest of the team, it's a good problem to have.
"I think we all feel good (about next season), outfielder Corey Hart said. "I'd hate to try to figure out what they're going do next year, we have so many good arms. Marco's established himself. He ended up having a great year. Peralta and Rogers, you have two solid guys. … We have a lot of guys. I don't know what we're going to do."
Added Estrada: "There are a lot of good options. That's why I think this one helped a little … We do have a lot of strong arms and guys who could start for this team. I'm just going to keep working hard."