MILWAUKEE — If the Milwaukee Brewers are going to recover from this disastrous stretch, their veteran players, those who have played in big late-season games, need to step up.
Somewhere near or at the top of that list is Kyle Lohse.
With a chance to move the Brewers one game closer to the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central, Lohse put Milwaukee in an early hole by allowing five earned runs in four innings.
It was too much for the Brewers to overcome, as they fell 5-3 to the Cardinals in front of 39,042 at Miller Park on Saturday, their 10th loss in 11 games. Lohse dropped to 2-4 with a 7.85 ERA over his last six starts, as he’s lasted four innings or less in three of those outings.
"I just haven’t pitched the way I normally do," Lohse said. "I pitch off my fastball then mix in the other stuff but I haven’t been able to locate it as well. I just have to get back to work tomorrow and fix it."
A leadoff walk to Matt Carpenter came back to burn Lohse in the first inning when Matt Adams connected for a two-out, two-run home run to put St. Louis up 2-0.
The Brewers, thanks in part to three Cardinals errors, rallied to tie the game in the bottom of the first. Scooter Gennett reached on an error by Adams and moved to third on a double from Gerardo Parra. Both runners scored when Ryan Braun dumped a bloop single into left, as left fielder Matt Holliday booted the ball and then airmailed a throw to the plate to allow Braun to reach third.
Holliday responded with a good throw, gunning Braun out trying to score on a shallow fly ball off the bat of Aramis Ramirez to keep the game tied at 2.
Clearly not featuring his best stuff, Lohse battled through two scoreless innings but ran into trouble in the fourth. Jhonny Peralta led off the inning with a single, advanced to second on a groundout and scored on a double by Kolten Wong.
One batter later, No. 8 hitter Oscar Taveras hit a towering two-run home run to right to deliver what turned out to be the decisive blow for the Cardinals.
"It’s four pitches: I don’t get a curveball in the dirt (to Adams); I don’t bury a slider to Peralta; I don’t get the fastball up to Wong and I don’t get the changeup away to Taveras," Lohse said. "That was a quick five runs because I couldn’t execute those pitches. Everything else was there; I just have to locate better. I got into some of that trouble because I’m not locating the fastball and finishing guys off."
Lohse’s night ended early when Brewers manager Ron Roenicke opted to take a shot at putting runs on the board by pinch-hitting Matt Clark with the bases loaded and two outs. The move didn’t pay off, as Cardinals starter Lance Lynn got Clark to fly out weakly to center to end the inning.
Since having his start skipped due to a right ankle injury, Lohse has allowed 13 earned runs in three starts. He battled through early command issues to go six innings against San Diego on Aug. 25, but was battered for seven runs in 5 2/3 innings by the Giants just six days later.
Lohse admitted to changing his mechanics to compensate for the ankle while pitching through the injury but isn’t sure if that has had anything to due with his recent struggles.
"The two home runs that were hit, I didn’t think they were bad pitches," Roenicke said. "But more concerning are the ones guys are getting on base on. The walks, leadoff walks — not like Kyle. He hits the pitcher when he’s got two strikes on him — that’s not Kyle.
"That’s more concerning than the home runs. Taveras hits a changeup that’s down and Adams hits the curveball that’s kind of a backdoor curveball, which I didn’t think was that bad a pitch. But we got away from the other things."
From his vantage point from behind home plate, Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy sees Lohse as a pitcher trying to find consistent command.
"Whenever he’s going really good, he’s really just painting," Lucroy said. "Everything is staying down. He just picks where he wants to go. That’s the kind of pitcher he is. He mixes and matches with everything. He’s a feel guy, and he’s lost his feel right now. We just have to get him back on track.
"He has the most experience on this staff, and he obviously is a big part of our rotation. Hopefully we can get him back on track his next start."
Milwaukee’s bullpen allowed the offense time to climb back into the game by tossing five consecutive perfect innings of relief.
But the Brewers were unable to do so, mostly because they went 2 for 12 with runners in scoring position. After loading the bases for the Brewers with two outs in the fourth thanks to two walks and a hit-by-pitch, Lynn walked the first two batters he faced in the fifth.
The rally was instantly killed when Braun hit into a double play, while Ramirez struck out to end the inning.
"It’s just hard to string together a lot of hits against him," Roenicke said of Lynn. "He’s got a lot of life on his fastball. It does register 95, but it also has life on it. That’s why he’s so tough."
Lyle Overbay’s RBI double in the sixth cut the deficit to 5-3, but Milwaukee went 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position from that point on. The Brewers had runners reach second base in the eighth and ninth but couldn’t climb any closer.
The Cardinals managed to win Saturday despite collecting just four hits, committing three errors and having their last 17 batters set down in order.
"We were given a chance to win the game," Lucroy said. "We just didn’t have that big hit."
With 20 games left, the Brewers find themselves four games behind the Cardinals in the division and tied with the Atlanta Braves for the second and final wild-card spot. By winning a suspended game and then their regularly scheduled game Saturday, the Pittsburgh Pirates moved to within a half game of the Brewers.
"The worst thing we can do is look at it like we only have 20 games left," Lohse said. "We have to look at it as we have a game tomorrow and we have to come out and do the best we can to execute when we have opportunities. That’s the way it is."
Time may be not be on Milwaukee’s side, but Roenicke still believes his team has a run in it.
"I still do," Roenicke said. "It is going to come down to pitching. We’ve got to really pitch well. To have a nice run, they’ve got to keep the run totals down. We’re facing really good pitching, the rest of the year. We’re not going to score a ton of runs every game, so we’re going to have to pitch really well."