Preview: Brewers vs. Pirates
MILWAUKEE — Even though he wasn’t able to work out a deal for Reds right-hander Matt Harvey, Milwaukee Brewers general manager David Stearns is still confident in his team’s starting pitchers as the Brewers try to lock down their first playoff berth since 2011.
“This is a group that has pitched competitively throughout the vast majority of the season and we think they will continue to do so,” said Stearns, who wouldn’t directly confirm the many reports saying Milwaukee had claimed Harvey off waivers.
Milwaukee’s starters got off to a rough start this month, posting a 5.58 ERA through the first 15 games of August. They’ve turned it around of late, recording quality starts in four of the last five games — a streak that could reach five of six if right-hander Jhoulys Chacin stays true to his recent form Saturday when he starts game two of the Brewers’ three-game set with the Pirates at Miller Park.
Chacin (13-4, 3.58 ERA) has been one of the Brewers’ more reliable players this season, as well as one of the better pitchers in the National League — especially over the last month. Since getting knocked around early in a 21-5 rout at Los Angeles to open August, he is 3-0 with a 1.42 ERA over his last three starts, holding opposing batters to a .191 batting average.
He has also cleared at least six innings in each of those three outings. The Brewers would benefit greatly from another deep outing by Chacin Saturday after playing 15 innings Friday night but also because their bullpen has yet to fully recover from a rash of injuries during the second half and the season-long struggles of Corey Knebel.
An All-Star a year ago, Knebel has been unable to command his stuff consistently this season, especially his curveball, resulting in a 5.09 ERA. Brewers manager Craig Counsell tried serval options to get him back on track before finally moving him to lower-leverage situations.
When that didn’t work, the Brewers made a more drastic move, optioning Knebel to Triple-A Colorado Springs where he could work in a lower-pressure environment.
“He wants to pitch better, so we’re trying to figure out a way to help him pitch better,” Counsell said. “This is the track he’ll be on.”
Joakim Soria could see some of the ninth-inning work while Knebel gets straightened out. He threw a scoreless eighth inning Friday after coming off the disabled list and had 16 saves this season for the White Sox before he was acquired by the Brewers ahead of the deadline.
“He didn’t miss a lot of time with the injury, so we feel like we can put him right back into some bigger spots for us,” Counsell said.
The Pirates will need some bullpen help, too, Saturday. Manager Clint Hurdle’s relief corps covered 11 innings, with closer Felipe Vasquez tossing two scoreless frames and Stephen Brault adding four more before Clay Holmes gave up three runs in the 15th.
Hurdle was already working somewhat shorthanded because Kyle Crick was unavailable.
“Crick’s back flared up on him the last game he pitched at home,” Hurdle said. “We talked to him earlier in the day and he felt it so we wanted to stay away from him.”
Like Chacin, Pittsburgh’s Saturday starter, Jameson Tallion, has been working deep into games lately, getting through at least six innings in seven of his last eight starts.
Taillon (9-9, 3.58 ERA) has faced Milwaukee three times this season, allowing five earned runs while striking out 18 over 16 innings and going 1-1 with a 2.81 ERA in those three games. Taillon is 2-4 with a 3.42 ERA in nine career starts against the Brewers.
Chacin is 2-4 with a 4.03 ERA in nine career starts against the Pirates, and he is 0-1 with a 1.53 ERA in three starts against them this season.