Lack of support doesn’t help Johnny Hellweg’s shaky start

MILWAUKEE — There wasn’t one person to blame for the sloppiness of the Milwaukee Brewers’ 12-5 loss to the New York Mets on Friday night at Miller Park.

The defense was poor, mistakes were made on the bases, outs were made at the plate, and the pitching left a lot to be desired.

It would be unfair to point the finger to rookie right-hander Johnny Hellweg for Friday’s loss — dropping the Brewers to a season-worst 17 games under .500 at 34-51 — but the tone was set on the mound. While plays weren’t made behind him again, Hellweg was all over the place with his command and out of the game in fourth inning.

While Brewers manager Ron Roenicke wouldn’t comment on Hellweg’s status in the rotation moving forward, his time in the big leagues might be short-lived.

“We sure didn’t play well today,” Roenicke said. “We didn’t pitch well today, we didn’t play well defensively today. We swung the bats OK. I messed up, too, on a play. So nothing went right today.”

Coming off his first major league start in which he was chased in the second inning and a shaky relief appearance, Hellweg found himself in trouble right off the bat Friday. After a pair of singles by Eric Young and David Wright gave the Mets first and third with one out, Hellweg walked hitters with batting averages of .161 and .179 to force in a run.

Milwaukee’s shaky defense cost Hellweg a run in the first inning, as Jean Segura’s footwork got messed up on a double play ball, causing him to throw high to allow Juan Lagares to beat out the return throw.

Things fell apart for Hellweg and the Brewers in the second inning. After a four pitch walk and a sacrifice bunt to start the inning, Segura booted an easy ground ball to allow Young to reach.

Daniel Murphy followed with a ball hit right to Hellweg. Instead of turning an easy double play by going to second base, Hellweg decided to throw to third base. Omar Quintanilla dove back easily, loading the bases for the Mets.

“I kind of had a little lapse of judgment right there,” Hellweg said. “As soon as the ball came back to me, I felt like there was a guy at third and one out. With the ground ball before that, I spaced on the guy being at first when the ball got back to me. That wasn’t the right play.”

The Mets made Hellweg and the Brewers pay for their mistakes, as Kirk Nieuwenhuis delivered a two-run single to put New York up 5-2.

After a relatively easy third inning, Hellweg got hit around again in the fourth. An error by Aramis Ramirez extended the inning, and Hellweg was removed after a two-out walk to Quintanilla.

Just three of the seven runs Hellweg allowed were earned, but he allowed seven hits and issued five walks without a strikeout in 3 2/3 innings. His ERA fell Friday, but it still sits at 12.79.

Out of sorts a bit, Hellweg looks like a different pitcher than the one pitching in Triple A recently.

“I think I was in a good groove down there, everything was clicking for me,” Hellweg said. “I had a good roll going down there. A little bit of change of scenery, schedule and everything, I guess is speeding the game up for me a little bit.”

The Brewers are waiting to determine Hellweg’s future in the rotation partially because Wily Peralta’s status for Sunday’s start is unknown. Tyler Thornburg had to throw 89 pitches over 4 1/3 innings Friday, ruling him out for Sunday.

Milwaukee now must weigh the difficult decision of getting Hellweg valuable experience, but also fearing damage being done to a young piece by the weight of struggles at the big league level.

“You’re always concerned about that,” Roenicke said. “I also like the experience he’s getting up here and i think he sees what happens when he makes a good pitch; he sees the result. Even some real good hitters, he can get out. It goes both ways. I think this guy is going to be a good major league pitcher but we have to get that command issue straightened out and we have to play better behind him. He’s going to get a lot of ground balls and if you’re in the infield, you better be ready.”

Shaky infield defense has been a common theme in Hellweg’s two starts, something unexplainable but also damaging to a pitcher relying on a sinker.

“You see what happens when he commands it well,” Roenicke said. “He gets a ton of ground balls. We’re not playing well behind him — making plays defensively. Anytime a guy has 96, 97 (mph) sinker; if he can command that pitch, he’s really going to do well in the big leagues and right now, we’re not at that stage.”

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