MILWAUKEE — This was certainly not how the Milwaukee Brewers wanted to start their season — especially having been gifted with six games at home.
Not only did Sunday’s 8-7 extra-innings loss to Arizona drop Milwaukee to 1-5 on the young season — its worst six-game start since 2003 — but the Brewers lost three more starters to injuries in the process.
Bruised in the lineup, tired in the bullpen and ineffective in the rotation, the Brewers were in a bizarre spot Sunday afternoon.
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Because the bullpen has covered 24-2/3 innings in six games and is already gassed, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke had to run his struggling closer back out for the 11th inning and watch as he gave up a two-run home run.
Because another injury chewed into an already short bench, the Brewers had to embarrassingly trot pitcher Kyle Lohse to the plate with two outs and the tying run on third base in the bottom of the 11th inning, only to strike out looking.
Since Opening Day, nothing has gone Milwaukee’s way. Sure, the Brewers didn’t perform well and brought some of the circumstances on themselves, but bad luck played a part. How can a team carrying eight relievers already have a taxed bullpen? And how does a team’s hopes of snapping a skid come down to a starting pitcher taking an at-bat?
Right now, Roenicke is as puzzled as everyone else.
“To start a season, this is tough,” Roenicke said. “You don’t expect to have this many injuries early, and when you do, it’s hard to figure out how you cover everything.”
The Brewers’ manager didn’t want to hand the ball to Axford for another inning after the embattled closer got through a clean but loud frame in the 10th, but Roenicke had little choice. Left in the bullpen were one-inning guys. Alfredo Figaro threw 57 pitches Saturday, Brandon Kintzler pitched Friday and Saturday, and Chris Narveson pitched Saturday and likely can’t go back-to-back days. Michael Gonzalez eventually came in, but he’s a situational, one-inning guy at most.
What compounded things was the fact the Brewers battled back in the bottom of the 11th and were in a prime position to tie the game against Arizona’s struggling reliever Heath Bell.
With a run in to make the game 8-7 and runners at first and third, the Brewers had Rickie Weeks at the plate and the pitcher’s spot in the lineup due next. If the Diamondbacks knew Ryan Braun couldn’t swing the bat, they would have walked Weeks and forced Roenicke to go to a pitcher. It’s hard to blame a manager for wanting one of his better hitters to not get pitched around, and it wasn’t his fault Weeks didn’t expand the strike zone knowing Braun couldn’t hit.
Braun was a decoy. That’s all he was. There never was a chance he could hit, as his attempts to loosen the neck to swing failed. Weeks struck out looking, so Lohse was the team’s final hope. And the Brewers signed the right-hander for reasons other than his ability to get a clutch RBI.
“You’re a baseball player and you want to help in any way you can,” Lohse said. “Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do it.”
It’s impossible to blame Lohse for not coming through in that situation. In fact, it’s hard to blame Weeks for striking out in front of him because the pitch he was rung up on appeared to be off the plate, though he knew a pitcher had to hit behind him and a strikeout was the last thing that could happen.
There’s not one word that could be used to sum up the homestand, but there’s a few. Puzzling, bizarre and frustrating all come to mind. Because the starting pitchers other than Lohse struggled to go deep into games, the bullpen wore down. Because the Brewers expected to need an extra pitcher early in the season, the bench was thin. And because of all that, Roenicke’s hands were tied.
“It’s difficult when people are all going through a similar funk at the same time or guys are getting injured at the same time,” Axford said. “Hopefully, we can keep fighting like we did last year and really fight like we can.”
The Brewers were ravaged by injuries early in 2012, as well, but those were season-ending injuries. Though those are devastating in the short term and long run, day-to-day and short-term injuries like the Brewers have currently are more apt to lead to a thin bench.
If Jean Segura — who left Sunday’s game with a left quad contusion — isn’t able to play the first couple of games in Chicago starting Monday, the Brewers will have to play their backup catcher at first base, barring a roster move. But how can a roster move be made with the bullpen so tired? It’s a crazy situation to be in.
“You can’t make quick decision and DL people when you know they are going to be back in a couple of days,” Roenicke said. “That makes it difficult.”
Nobody is denying the Brewers are in a rut, and the first homestand was a disaster, but there’s still 156 games to be played. Sure, there have been troubling signs that have a chance to be bigger problems, but let’s wait until this team can get healthy before making any rash judgments.
Patience is a hard thing to have, but the Brewers must display it right now.