MILWAUKEE — After learning of the Milwaukee Brewers’ decision to move him from the starting rotation to the bullpen, Marco Estrada wasn’t pleased, but that was to be expected.
The right-hander was sent to the bullpen last week in order to clear a rotation spot for top pitching prospect Jimmy Nelson. While the move may not be permanent, Estrada’s streak of 54 starts is over.
"I don’t want him to be happy (about the move)," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "But he understood."
Estrada was done in by the home run ball in 2014, allowing major-league leading 27 in 18 starts. Also not helping was an increased amount of walks issued, as Estrada has already issued a career-high 36 free passes in 109 innings.
Despite Estrada having a 3.64 ERA over his last three starts, the Brewers decided to act now for a couple of reasons: Nelson was pitching too well in Triple-A to stay in the minor leagues and the ballclub needed a spark in the midst of a rough spell on the field.
Estrada’s first five starts this season were good, as he went 2-1 with a 2.87 ERA in April. Things began to fall apart in May (5.05 ERA in six starts) but really took a turn for the worst when he allowed 24 earned runs in 29 innings for a 7.45 June ERA.
"They stuck with me through the hardest times," Estrada said. "There was a good month where I struggled really bad. I felt like recently my outings have been better. We’ve been struggling, so something had to be done and unfortunately it was me moving to the ‘pen.
"They gave me plenty of opportunities. I felt like I was coming back, like I was getting on the right track again. But a move had to be made. Unfortunately it was me, and I’ve just got to deal with it."
It’s unclear what Estrada’s role in the bullpen will be coming out of the All-Star break. He will likely start as a long reliever pitching in the middle innings or giving the Brewers length after a short start, but Roenicke eluded to the possibility of Estrada earning chances in high-leverage situations.
"He’s going to pitch himself into whatever that role is," Roenicke said. "If he’s pitching better than our other right-handers late in the game, then he’s going to be late in the game."
Estrada is certainly used to pitching out of the bullpen, as the right-hander spent almost all of 2011 in a long relief role for the Brewers. Outside of the seven spot starts he made that season, Estrada had a 4.38 ERA in 36 relief appearances, including posting a 3.00 ERA after July 1.
He began 2012 in the bullpen but moved into the starting rotation after an injury to left-hander Chris Narveson. Estrada has been starting for the Brewers ever since, going 12-11 with a 3.81 ERA in 44 starts between 2012 and 2013.
"Us getting to the postseason is all that matters," Estrada said. "Whatever moves have to be made have to be made. As long as we’re winning and we get into the playoffs, then these were the right moves. Whatever my role is, I’m going to do it the best that I can and just keep working hard.
"I’m still thankful they didn’t send me to Triple-A. I’m still here with the team, so I can still help out. Just got to keep working hard and help out in that way."
In his difficult discussion with Estrada, Roenicke made clear he feels the 31-year-old can provide the Brewers with valuable innings in his new role.
"That’s what part of the conversation was," Roenicke said. "It was, ‘You’re not just in the bullpen because we want you in there. You’re in the bullpen because we think you can help us win games.’ As we’ve seen lately, the bullpen is very important to what we do. To win games, you have to have guys down there you can count on."
While it appears as if Nelson will get a fair chance to earn the No. 5 spot in the rotation, there are no guarantees he takes the job and runs with it.
"Hopefully I get my shot again," Estrada said. "We’re (in first place), and that’s all that matters. If this is going to help us win some more games, then I’m going to go along for the ride. All that matters is getting to the playoffs."