MILWAUKEE — It appeared that Randy Wolf had reached his breaking point.
He yelled into his glove in frustration on the mound during Friday’s loss, arguably his worst defeat in an otherwise hard-luck season. Wolf had allowed seven earned runs, two of them on long home runs, inflating his ERA to 5.78.
In front of his locker, he confessed the frustrations that had been plaguing him throughout this season, his 14th in the league. Never had he felt so good, yet played so bad. He questioned things. His confidence was visibly wavering.
“It just seems like right when I’m on the right track, I just derail again,” Wolf said. “It’s beyond frustrating.”
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke knew how frustrated his pitcher was. He spoke with him soon after, encouraging the pitcher that he hasn’t been nearly as bad as his statistics may claim.
“Last couple of days, he’d been pretty good,” Roenicke said on Wednesday. “He had four good starts in a row, then he had the last one. So I’m hoping that last one was just like any of these guys; they just have a bad day. Hopefully, he’ll get back on track again.”
And on Wednesday, there was his chance. Six innings down and Wolf was cruising. He had down the last seven batters heading into the seventh inning and was at just 92 pitches. Roenicke questioned whether to take out the veteran pitcher, but decided that it was “his game”.
That decision would prove to change the scope of Wednesday’s game, as the Brewers lead began to quickly diminish. Wolf gave up a home run to the first batter of the seventh, forced to watch Justin Ruggiano round the bases. Then, soon it was another home run, this time to Logan Morrison. Wolf had been doing anything he wanted all game until this inning. He got the ball back from catcher George Kottaras and threw his arm down in frustration. Another chance to break out of his slump had passed him by.
After the game, Wolf walked solemnly to his locker to where the media was waiting for him. He explained that he had spent time before this game working on shortening his delivery and being more efficient with his pitches. Frustration had made him work too hard in his last outing, and on Wednesday, at the very least, he had been much more efficient.
“I felt great (today),” Wolf explained. “I don’t think I could convey to you how frustrating this year has been. I definitely don’t feel as bad as the numbers look.”
And Roenicke has remained in sync with Wolf’s insistence that he can pitch better. He’s already given his veteran pitcher a vote of confidence, but with his ERA, WHIP, and strikeouts per nine innings coming in at some of the lowest marks of his career, there is a question of how long that can last.
But as a veteran, Wolf said he’s been able to shut out his past efforts before every game he’s pitched. He knows that’s the best way to kick some of these momentum-killing performances that have crept up on him all season long.
“Each game is new,” Wolf said. “I go out there with that approach. Again, I made some adjustments in my bullpen and again I felt great going into the game I felt great in the game. It’s frustrating to have that seventh inning go that way, but I feel mentally, when the game starts erase everything that’s happened in the past. But you know when you sit back and you have time to think about it after the game and the days between, of course I reflect back on this year and it’s miserable. It’s tough because again I’ve been feeling great.”
There’s no telling whether the veteran pitcher will be able to get it on track before it’s too late. With fringe rotation pitchers like Marco Estrada and Michael Fiers pitching so well, there’s no telling how deep Roenicke’s confidence runs in his veteran.
But for today, Wolf remains positive, albeit frustrated. Six relatively easy innings had showed progress. And without another start scheduled before the All-Star break, that thought, that sense of optimism, would have to be enough for now.