MILWAUKEE — Spring training can become long and tedious for a veteran like Kyle Lohse, so there is a part of him that didn’t miss the six weeks of preparation last season.
Signing with the Brewers just a week before Opening Day, Lohse realized later on down the road the value spring training does hold for a pitcher.
"It’s going to be good," Lohse said. "Last year was tough just jumping right into the season. Even though I was doing all the things that I needed to do pitching-wise, when you go to a new team and you don’t have the time to do the usual stuff with them and just hang and get to know the guys. I didn’t have that experience and got it as we went along."
Lohse wasn’t drastically hurt by signing so late, as the right-hander finished 2013 with a 3.35 ERA in 32 starts. But he had to battle through a five-start stretch in May in which he went 0-4 with a 6.51 ERA and an opponent batting average of .345.
There’s no physical proof missing spring training led to a bit of a lull in May, but Lohse feels it played a major role in the only rough stretch of his season. He experienced hamstring and elbow injuries during that time, a potential side effect of lack of preparation time.
"When I made my first start I was ready to go," Lohse said. "I think it was just the lack of some of the extra throwing you do, because I was doing my bullpens and long toss. There’s a lot of extra throwing that we do that I wasn’t able to simulate.
"I think that kind of caught up to me in May, struggling with some stuff and it showed. I wish you could cut out four to five starts there, but you can’t. Other than that, I felt like last year was pretty strong."
Lohse’s impact on the Brewers went beyond his contributions on the mound, as the 35-year-old instantly became a leader in the clubhouse. Milwaukee had a variety of young pitchers getting their first taste of the big leagues last season, and Lohse took many under his wing.
Brewers pitching coach Rick Kranitz was in the Cubs organization when Lohse was drafted by Chicago and saw firsthand the ups and downs the right-hander had to go through in order to become successful.
"He’s helped a lot of these young guys out because he’s had some struggles along the way," Kranitz said. "That’s what it’s all about for some of these young guys that go through the struggle. To have somebody help them along the way and give them advice has been great."
The addition of Matt Garza means a few of those young pitchers won’t be in the rotation when the season starts, barring injury. But the Brewers now have depth to go along with a solid projected rotation of Garza, Lohse, Yovani Gallardo, Wily Peralta and Marco Estrada.
"You are adding a veteran who has proven to be able to do it over the long course," Lohse said of the Garza signing. "You are taking opportunity away from somebody, but the way the season goes, at some point you are going to need somebody again. Not often do five guys make all the starts. It just helps you out adding talent like that."
Milwaukee’s starting pitchers finished the year strong last year, but started slow yet again. Lohse’s rough month was a struggle for the pitching staff and the team as a whole, as the Brewers went 6-22 in May and dug themselves a hole too deep.
Talk again has been about how encouraging the late-season success of the pitching was, but Lohse knows a key to contending is getting off to a better start.
"We did (finish strong), but like I’ve heard several of our bosses say, we can’t keep doing that," Lohse said. "We did a great job in the second half, but you can’t hang your hat on that. You need to take it into a strong start for this year. We have to be ready and we can’t fall behind like we did last year. I think our staff is strong enough right now to be able to."
But with Garza and a few veteran options at first base the only pieces added this offseason, are the Brewers strong enough to contend in a tough National League Central?
"It sounds like excuses over and over, but if we stay healthy, that’s a huge part of it," Lohse said. "Every team could say the same thing, but I don’t think every team had their middle of their lineup missing like we did for the majority of the year.
"If we can get that settled in and have some regulars and those young guys can build on their experience of last year, we could go and sneak up on people. That’s fine by me."