MILWAUKEE — Despite another start in which he struggled to keep the ball in the ballpark and runs off the board, Marco Estrada’s spot in Milwaukee’s rotation appears to be safe — for now.
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke offered a bit of support for his struggling right-hander after Estrada gave up three more home runs and five runs over five innings in Milwaukee’s 13-4 loss to the Cincinnati Reds at Miller Park on Sunday afternoon.
"We’ll stay with it and talk about it and see if we can get him straightened out," Roenicke said. "Right now, I haven’t had that discussion with (general manager) Doug (Melvin)."
The Reds jumped on Estrada from the start Sunday, as Billy Hamilton led off the game with a solo home run. Brandon Phillips hit a two-run shot later in the inning, while Todd Frazier took Estrada deep for a tie-breaking, two-run home run in the fifth.
Estrada has now allowed 23 home runs this season, seven more than any other pitcher in baseball. He’s not only well on his way to breaking the franchise record for home runs allowed (39 by Braden Looper in 2009) but also the major-league record of 50. Of the 45 earned runs scored against Estrada this season, 35 have come via the home run.
Afterwards, Estrada admitted to have been dealing with some things mentally about a month ago but said he felt great both mentally and physically Sunday.
"I think I just tried way too hard and that’s what happens," Estrada said. "I was rushing stuff, leaving balls up and got hit around. Once that (first) inning was over, I came back in and calmed down. My nerves were down and I thought I threw the ball well after that.
"It was a step in the right direction which I know, to you guys, probably doesn’t sound right because of what happened but it really was. Mentally, I’m strong right now — stronger than I have been. I dealt with some stuff but I’m feeling better now mentally and physically."
After posting a 2.87 ERA in five April starts, Estrada has a 5.98 ERA over his last eight starts, including allowing 15 earned runs in his last three outings.
Despite his struggles, Estrada is still confident he can fight through and return to the pitcher he was over most of the last two years when he posted a sub-4.00 ERA over 44 starts for the Brewers.
"Things are going to get better," Estrada said. "I don’t know if anybody believes it or not but I do. I believe it. I know the team believes in me. I’m not this guy, the guy that’s pitching the way he is right now. I’m a different pitcher, a much better pitcher. Things are going to change. I really feel that in my heart right now. This next outing could be it. I’ve been feeling much better."
With top prospect Jimmy Nelson tearing through Triple-A — with a 7-1 record and a 1.51 ERA in 11 starts for Nashville — it is fair to raise the question as to if Estrada gives the Brewers their best shot at this point in time.
When asked what would be the negative side of swapping Nelson for Estrada, Roenicke said, "Next start’s in Colorado."
"I think it’s case by case," Roenicke said. "It’s hard to say. Some guys, you do stick with because of the history. Marco certainly probably falls into that. He’s done a nice job for us. He’s going through a spell that we have to get through, and hopefully he comes out of it and gets back to that really good pitcher.
"He’s good when he’s on. You guys have seen him on, I’ve seen him on. He can go through good lineups when he’s on, and we have to figure out how to get him back to that."
Though he felt as if Sunday was a step in the right direction, Estrada knows there’s a chance he may not take the ball Friday in Colorado. He will face a big challenge if he does pitch against the Rockies, as Coors Field allows the fourth-most home runs per game in baseball.
"It’s not my decision," Estrada said. "I have nothing to do with that. All I can do is go out there and pitch the best that I can. Whatever happens, happens; I have no control over it. I can’t complain, either. If something does happen, I deserve it. If something doesn’t happen, great. Mentally it’ll just build up my confidence even more. I’m going to get ready just like I always do. None of that is in my mind, nothing about it at all."