StaTuesday: Suter slugging, but XBH rare for recent Brewers pitchers

Brent Suter is back in the starting rotation for the Milwaukee Brewers, but his most impressive feat of 2018 might just have come when he was a reliever.

On May 8, Suter pitched 4 2/3 innings out of the bullpen and also smacked a home run off Corey Kluber in Milwaukee’s 3-2 win over Cleveland.

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It marked just the third time in MLB history that a relief pitcher homered off the previous year’s Cy Young Award winner and it was the first time it has happened in nearly 50 years (note: the award was first given out in 1956 and wasn’t issued to a pitcher in both leagues until 1967). The other two occurrences were in 1957 (Philadelphia Turk Farrell vs. Brooklyn’s Don Newcombe) and 1969 (Cincinnati’s Clay Carroll vs. St. Louis’ Bob Gibson).

The blast off Kluber marked just the seventh time a Brewers relief pitcher had homered. Tyler Cravy was the last to do it, against Pittsburgh on Aug. 27, 2016. It is the only hit of Cravy’s major-league career. Outfielder turned pitcher Brooks Kieschnick did it three times in 2003 — May 12 vs. the Cubs, Aug. 6 against Atlanta and Sept. 12 vs. San Francisco. Kieschnick hit seven home runs that season, but the others came when he was the team’s designated hitter or pinch-hitting. Twenty-seven-year old rookie Bronswell Patrick hit one Aug. 1, 1998, the last of his three career hits.

The first time a relief pitcher hit a home run for Milwaukee was a similar situation to Suter’s. Like Suter, Bill Parsons entered the game in the first inning and he hit his off a Cy Young Award winner (albeit in the future) in Baltimore’s Jim Palmer. Also, like Suter, Parsons picked up the win — and in fact, of the seven HRs by Brewers relievers, the Suter and Parsons games are the only ones which Milwaukee emerged victorious.

Suter has also doubled this season, as have Dan Jennings and Jorge Lopez. The four extra-base hits by Brewers pitchers falls in line with the past few seasons. From 2013-16, Milwaukee hurlers combined for five extra-base hits each year. Last season, it was just three (two doubles by Zach Davies and one for Chase Anderson).

That’s a far cry from the glory days of Milwaukee pitcher hitting power, which would be 2007-12, when double digits in extra-base hits was reached in every year but one.

1969 9
1970 9
1971 8
1972 3
1973 1
1998 8
1999 9
2000 10
2001 5
2002 6
2003 11
2004 10
2005 9
2006 5
2007 11
2008 15
2009 7
2010 16
2011 15
2012 15
2013 5
2014 5
2015 5
2016 5
2017 3
2018 4

Yovani Gallardo was the main reason for the Brewers’ pitcher power surge. He had eight extra-base hits (four doubles and four home runs) in 2010 alone. Randy Wolf also had four doubles that season. He had five in 2007 (three doubles, two home runs) and ’11 (four doubles, home run) and four in 2009 (two doubles and two home runs) and 2012; in the latter Zack Greinke also had four (both pitchers had three doubles and a homer).

In 2008, when Gallardo only had one extra-base hit Manny Parra had six (five doubles, triple) and CC Sabathia three.

The only pitcher to get hit for the Brewers when they were in the American League in the designated hitter era was Eduardo Rodriguez in 1973, the first year of the rule.

Rodriguez, a 21-year-old rookie, had relieved Jim Slaton, who was moved into the lineup after Milwaukee put its designated hitter into the outfield. After being convinced he had to bat (after all, this was the year of the DH and only three AL pitchers had batted previously that season), Rodriguez hit a ball to the wall in right-center field, ignored his third-base coach who told him to stop at second, slid into third with a triple and came home as the relay throw to third was wild and went into the dugout.

It was the only at-bat of Rodriguez’s career and is just one of seven triples hit by an American League pitcher in the DH era — and it took 24 years for the next one (Omar Olivares in 1997). The others: James Baldwin (1999), Chris Michalak (2001), Kenny Rogers (2005), Johan Santana (2007) and C.J. Wilson (2011).

Dave Heller is the author of Ken Williams: A Slugger in Ruth’s Shadow (a Larry Ritter Book Award nominee), Facing Ted Williams – Players From the Golden Age of Baseball Recall the Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived and As Good As It Got: The 1944 St. Louis Browns