Brewers 2015 position preview: Starting pitchers

Brewers pitcher Kyle Lohse had a 13-9 record with a 3.54 ERA in 31 starts in 2014.

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This is the first in a nine-part series previewing the Milwaukee Brewers by position leading up to Opening Day on April 6.

PROJECTED STARTERS:

RHP Kyle Lohse (13-9, 3.54 ERA in 31 starts in 2014)

RHP Matt Garza (8-8, 3.64 ERA in 27 starts)

RHP Wily Peralta (17-11, 3.53 ERA in 32 starts)

RHP Mike Fiers (6-5, 2.13 ERA in 14 appearances, 10 starts)

RHP Jimmy Nelson (2-9, 4.93 ERA in 14 appearances, 12 starts)

2014 IN REVIEW:

Milwaukee’s starting pitchers posted a respectable 3.69 ERA in 2014, which was good for 15th in baseball. Seven different pitchers made starts for the Brewers last season, with Wily Peralta, Yovani Gallardo and Kyle Lohse all making more than 30 starts.

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After making his fifth straight Opening Day start, Gallardo went 8-11 with a 3.51 ERA in what turned out to be his final season with the Brewers. The right-hander came out of the gates with a 1.91 ERA over his first six starts before struggling to a 5.79 ERA in May. Gallardo was very consistent throughout the middle of the season but failed to step up while the team was collapsing late, as he went 0-4 with a 5.06 ERA in five September starts.

Lohse followed up his strong first season in Milwaukee with almost an identical campaign in 2014. The veteran had one bad month, as an ankle injury contributed to a 7.30 ERA in August. In his 26 other starts, Lohse went 12-6 with a 3.01 ERA.

Signed to a four-year, $50 million contract in the offseason, Matt Garza got off to a slow start to his Brewers career but recovered with a dominant stretch during the middle of the season. After posting a 4.84 ERA over April and May, Garza went 5-3 with a 2.52 ERA over his next 12 starts. Garza missed a month down the stretch due to an oblique strain suffered Aug. 3 in St. Louis. He returned to make four September starts, going 1-1 with a 4.08 ERA.

Peralta was able to take a significant leap forward in his second full season in the big leagues. The 25-year-old was named Milwaukee’s Most Valuable Pitcher after a year in which he went 17-11 with a 3.53 ERA in 32 starts. Peralta was able to keep his emotions in check while on the mound, a critical step considering his pure stuff is ace-like.

Fifth starter Marco Estrada was removed from the rotation in July after posting a 4.96 ERA and allowing a major-league-leading 27 home runs in 18 starts. Jimmy Nelson was called up from Triple-A to fill the void. While Nelson was struggling to adjust to the big leagues, Mike Fiers made the most of his second opportunity while filling in for the injured Garza. That left manager Ron Roenicke to move Nelson to the bullpen when Garza returned in September.

2015 OUTLOOK

For the third consecutive offseason, the Brewers made a significant move involving a starting pitcher. This time it was to subtract an arm, as Gallardo — a free agent following the 2015 season — was traded to Texas in January.

In Lohse, Garza and Peralta, Milwaukee has a solid top three in its rotation. Peralta has the makings of an ace, while Lohse is the consistent and durable veteran. The Brewers will need Garza to stay healthy for a full season, which is something he hasn’t been able to do since 2011.

Fiers went 6-4 with a 2.09 ERA in 10 starts last season, leaving the Brewers confident he will be a reliable back-of-the-rotation pitcher moving forward. Milwaukee was motivated to open a rotation spot for the hard-throwing Nelson, who has done all he can in Triple-A. Now he must establish himself as a major-league starter. There’s significant risk in dealing a consistent pitcher in Gallardo to clear room for an inexperienced arm.

Last season, the Brewers had plenty of starting pitching depth, as evidenced by Fiers and Nelson coming up to fill voids during the year. Trading Estrada and Gallardo has left Milwaukee without a clear-cut No. 6 starter in case of injury. Taylor Jungmann, Michael Blazek and Tyler Thornburg are currently the top in-house options.

Brewers Position Previews

KEY TO SUCCESS

Because of a lack of depth, the rotation must stay healthy. The starting five is capable of allowing the Brewers to contend for a postseason berth, but it would be hard for Milwaukee to absorb an injury of significant length.

THEY SAID IT

"If you have Yovani here again, then what do you do with Jimmy Nelson? He has earned the opportunity to pitch in the major leagues every fifth day. . . . He has the experience now. The anticipation of coming to the big leagues, he’s already by that. We’re hoping now we see the stuff those guys saw in the minor leagues. He shouldn’t feel like there’s that much pressure on him. Jimmy Nelson is not replacing Yovani. Jimmy Nelson is going to be our fourth or fifth starter. That was not Yovani. That’s Kyle and Garza’s job." — Roenicke on Nelson

"If we can’t lean on each other, then we don’t have anybody to lean on. If we’re a tightknit group, we become successful. We’re competitive, and everybody wants to outdo the game before. I think that’s what drove us. They brought these young guys up, and it drove them. I learned in college, and it’s always stuck with me, that if we’re not tight, we’re not going to be good." — Garza on the rotation

"There’s no reason why he can’t do (what he did in 2014) for a long time. He’s a huge part of what we are doing this year and for years to come. In our ballpark, you don’t want to get the ball in the air too much. He really fits that spot." — Roenicke on Peralta

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