MILWAUKEE — After a one-day hiatus, Milwaukee’s starting pitching struggles continued Saturday night.
In the rotation with a short leash, Mike Fiers put the Brewers in another early hole, allowing six runs in five innings as Milwaukee fell, 9-2, to the Diamondbacks, its fourth straight loss since a win on Opening Day.
It was simply a performance Fiers couldn’t have. After a slow demise at the end of last season and a rough spring training, Fiers snuck into the fifth spot of Milwaukee’s rotation largely because of what he did during his first two months in the big leagues.
A pair of two-run home runs turned what could have been an average outing into one of struggle.
“I thought I threw the ball pretty well,” Fiers said. “They capitalized on a couple of mistakes, and that was the game. Two key at-bats in the game. I have to give them credit.
“Balls were up. The changeup (on a home run) to (Paul) Goldschmidt was right there. I couldn’t have put it in a better spot for him. I give them credit. I felt like I was throwing the ball well. I challenged them, threw them a lot of strikes and they swung the bats well tonight.”
It’s been a downward spiral ever since Fiers took baseball by storm with surprising dominance when he was called up last June. His first 11 starters were simply brilliant, including posting a 1.01 ERA in six July starts.
But a 4.89 ERA in August and a 7.09 ERA in September and October raised eyebrows. Was it fatigue or a return to the mean? So far, Fiers has done nothing to dispel the latter theory. He made the Brewers rotation despite a 6.98 ERA in spring training.
“Commanding the baseball is the main problem,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “That could be from lack of confidence. That could be from fatigue, that could be from getting out of rhythm with your delivery, it could be all those things. We need to find out what the answer is and get him on the right track. We need this guy to pitch well for us.
“(Pitching coach) Rick (Kranitz) is always looking at the film. He’ll check out the delivery and see if there’s something he can see that can cause him to miss so much with all his pitches.”
The Brewers have some flexibility because there are three more off days in April. Roenicke can choose to skip the fifth spot in the rotation a few times, and he might consider doing so. He plans on sitting down with his coaching staff Sunday to make a decision.
“We’ve talked about a few things,” Roenicke said. “(Chris) Narveson is always an option to go in the rotation. But we also want to make sure we are giving guys enough chance to get in a groove. Hopefully he’ll be the guy we saw last year.”
From his perspective, Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy doesn’t believe Fiers has lost his confidence but says he is lacking his feel on the mound.
“We’re trying to work ahead a lot, and he’s getting behind in some counts,” Lucroy said. “We’re not able to put guys away and leaving balls up in the zone. Hitters are just way too comfortable up there. We’re working through some things. He showed some real good stuff tonight, but we just couldn’t get that ball executed where we needed it to.”
Part of the reason Milwaukee has started 1-4 is the offense has struggled to score runs and now is playing without Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez and Corey Hart. But the rotation has had just one quality start and has put the offense in a hole in all but one game.
Even when Kyle Lohse pitched well Friday, Roenicke had to get three innings out of his bullpen because Lohse was on a pitch count after signing so late in camp.
“Our starters besides Lohse have struggled,” Roenicke said. “Michael, even though we think he’s a guy that’s going to pitch well, we have to get him on the right track so this doesn’t continue to go on. We’re scuffling our bullpen already when we have off-days and have eight guys down there. I’m having to go to guys and pitch them more than I would like to.”
While there were so many questions about Milwaukee’s rotation behind Yovani Gallardo and Lohse coming into the season, Lucroy is still confident they will turn it around.
“Things haven’t been going our way,” Lucroy said. “Obviously, we’ve made some mistakes pitching, but I really believe our pitchers are a lot better than what they’ve shown. I know it because I’ve seen it.
“Cream always rises to the top, so you aren’t going to be able to hold that down long. I really believe that we’re going step up and start beating some people really good.
As for Fiers, he’s moving on and looking ahead to his next start. That is, if he gets one.
“It’s not a great feeling when you give up six runs in five innings, but I can’t do nothing about this game right now,” Fiers said. “I have to look forward to my next start and get ready for St. Louis.
“Just because I started the year off bad doesn’t mean I can’t come back and pitch well next outing. I’m not really looking at this start like it was the whole year. It’s one start. It’s bad that it happened to come on my first start, but I’m going to get back at it and be ready for St. Louis.”