MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Brewers pitching staff was already having a tough month, posting a National League-worst ERA. But, on Tuesday, the team’s hard-luck April grew worse.
After being placed on the 15-day DL last week for a tear in his rotator cuff, Brewers No. 5 starter Chris Narveson announced Tuesday that he will undergo season-ending surgery on his throwing shoulder.
Narveson first noticed something was wrong after his second start, an April 15 loss to the Braves in which he pitched only four innings. As the soreness continued, he met with the team doctor and even received a second opinion from a specialist in Los Angeles.
But nothing could change the inevitable. The tear in his throwing shoulder would need surgery, effectively ending what could have been a breakout season for Narveson, who was one of the league’s best No. 5 pitchers last season with an 11-8 record and 4.45 ERA. In just two starts this season, Narveson was 1-1 with a 7.00 ERA.
The recovery time for the surgery is believed to take six to nine months.
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said that timetable should put Narveson in position to be fine for the beginning of spring training next season, but any kind of shoulder surgery is tough to bounce back from as a major league pitcher. Narveson underwent surgery for a torn labrum in 2005 as part of the Cardinals organization and also had Tommy John elbow surgery in 2001.
“Any time you have surgery or you’re talking about surgery, there’s still a question mark,” Roenicke said. “That’s the hard part.”
With Narveson out, the hard part will be replacing that solid production from the fifth spot in the rotation. After excelling in a spot start for Narveson last week, long relief pitcher Marco Estrada will be given the first shot at locking down the newly opened position.
Estrada was limited to just five innings in his first start of the season, but he made the best of his 78 pitches against the Rockies, striking out an impressive nine Colorado batters and allowing just one earned run. In that start, Estrada’s fastball was especially unhittable, as he credited all nine of his strikeouts to his heater. Although he explained that he’s never been much of a strikeout pitcher, catcher Jonathan Lucroy said on Tuesday that Estrada’s combination of fastballs and changeups was very effective and could confuse batters going forward. Lucroy even compared Estrada’s set of pitches to that of Brewers ace Yovani Gallardo.
“Everyone saw it (in his last start),” Lucroy said. “He was dominant, especially with his fastball. … He’s definitely more than capable of dominating people, I think.”
There is the matter of Estrada pitching deeper into games, however — something he adjusted his workouts for since his last start, in which he admitted he got pretty tired by the end of his five innings. In his next start, he said he hopes to reach the seventh inning, if possible.
When that start comes is still up in the air, though, as Roenicke said on Tuesday that he has considered keeping his four other starters on a five-game schedule in spite of the team’s off-day on Thursday. That would give Estrada an extra period to get in the swing of being a starting pitcher and also keep the rest of the rotation on its normal schedule. No decision has been made in that regard, but it should come in the next few days.
Either way, the loss of Narveson is an unfortunate one for a rotation that remained healthy and dominant for the majority of last season.
“It’s tough,” Lucroy said. “You don’t have that lefty in your rotation that can go out and put up those numbers no matter what. But I think Marco is going to step in and get the job done for us. He’s definitely more than capable. It’s a blow, but then again, we’ve got someone who can step in and really fill the role.”