Johnny Hellweg’s final line won’t jump out to those who just glance at the box score, but the rookie right-hander took a step in the right direction Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field.
Hellweg allowed three earned runs over a career-high six innings to earn his first major-league win in Milwaukee’s 5-3 victory over the Cubs. Making his fourth career start, Hellweg allowed just four hits, but two went for home runs and accounted for Chicago’s three runs.
“It feels awesome,” Hellweg said. “Feels good to contribute to the team up here . . . It’s a good feeling going into my next start. Feels good to go out there and put up six innings and give the team a chance to win.”
A day after being named the Brewers’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year, Hellweg was much better than he was in any of his first four outings with the Brewers. Hellweg entered Saturday’s start with an 11.17 ERA in three starts this season and hadn’t yet made it out of the fifth inning.
In his return to the rotation Saturday, Hellweg looked more like the pitcher the Brewers expect him to be. He recorded 11 ground-ball outs with his heavy sinker and settled in nicely during the middle innings.
Hellweg walked Brian Bogusevic to start the second inning and then surrendered a two-run home run to Luis Valbuena to fall behind 2-0 early. Unlike earlier in the season, the right-hander was able to gain control of the game and retired 13 of the next 16 batters he faced.
“Once I faced the lineup once, I realized that it wasn’t going to be any different than any other lineup I faced before so I just tried to stick with what I was doing, not do too much,” Hellweg said. “When I was working down in zone they were hitting it on the ground and I was getting some ground-ball outs. I know they rolled over on a couple changeups as well. The ground ball was huge for me today.”
The Brewers were able to use a four-run fourth inning to give Hellweg the lead and ultimately his first career win. After a leadoff single from Jonathan Lucroy and a walk to Aramis Ramirez, Scooter Gennett cut the deficit to 2-1 with a base hit up the middle.
Caleb Gindl drew a walk to load the bases with nobody out, but Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta struck out Juan Francisco for the first out of the inning. Logan Schafer picked up Francisco by clearing the bases with a triple into the right-center gap, putting the Brewers up 4-2.
“It feels great,” Schafer said. “He really didn’t have anywhere to put me. A 2-0 count I was basically dead red, put a good swing on something and stayed within myself. It was really nice to feel the barrel of the bat and run around those bases.”
Hellweg’s only other big mistake came with two outs in the sixth inning, as he left a fastball out over the plate and Bogusevic deposited it into the seats for a solo home run. Nonetheless, Hellweg recorded the first quality start of his career and started his September audition off on a good note.
“That was good to see,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “I wasn’t sure because he came out in the first inning and was . . . a little different. But as the innings went on, his stuff got better, location got better. I thought he pitched more with his changeup and breaking ball. Hopefully this is the guy we’re going to see.”
Davis update: Brewers rookie left fielder Khris Davis missed his second straight game Saturday with a sore left wrist, but an MRI taken Friday came back negative.
With inflammation in the wrist, Davis didn’t take batting practice Saturday and may sit out of Sunday’s series finale. The Brewers can breathe a sigh of relief that Davis’ injury isn’t serious, as he’s been a key contributor since Ryan Braun was suspended on July 23.
The 25-year-old is hitting .279 with nine home runs and 21 RBI in 48 games this season.
Rotation set: The Brewers revealed their probable starters for next week’s series against St. Louis on Saturday, as Wily Peralta, Marco Estrada and Tyler Thornburg will take the mound.
With an off day last Thursday and another coming Monday, Roenicke had to shift his rotation a bit and bump a few guys back. Peralta will start Tuesday after his normal five days of rest, while Estrada will pitch Wednesday after 10 days of rest. Thornburg will then pitch Thursday after nine days of rest.
After Monday, the Brewers will use a six-man rotation for the rest of the season as they play 20 games in 20 days to wrap up the year. Kyle Lohse, Hellweg and Yovani Gallardo will likely start the three games against Cincinnati next weekend.