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Sixth-inning struggles send Brewers to loss

July 28, 2010 Comments off

MILWAUKEE — After a thrilling series-opening win Monday, the Brewers’ hopes of making a run toward getting back into the playoff race were high. Two days later, a pair of blowout losses have taken a toll on such a positive outlook.

What a difference a couple days can make.

Like it has many times this season, the sixth inning loomed large for the Brewers on Wednesday. Over 103 games, the Brewers have given up 69 earned runs in the frame, good for a 6.03 ERA, which is tied with the first inning for the worst this season for the Crew.

Left-handed starter Chris Narveson combined with Kameron Loe to surrender five runs on five hits and two walks in the sixth, as the Brewers lost their second straight game to the Reds, 10-2, to drop the series and fall back to seven games under .500.

After tossing five scoreless innings and entering the top of the sixth with a two-run lead, Narveson (8-7) did not record an out, while loading the bases on a pair of singles and a walk.

“It was tough, because you had two ground balls in that inning, both where if they’re hit at somebody, you can get an out. One ball, you could get a double play on,” Narveson said. “It’s funny how the game is.

“It just kind of snowballed from there for us.”

Manager Ken Macha said he made the decision to remove Narveson because the Brewers had a rested bullpen after limiting the number of relievers needed a night earlier.

First out of the ‘pen was Loe, who entered the game with a 1.44 ERA over 25 appearances. He gave up two hits and walked a batter before getting the first out of the inning.

Tagged for two runs on three hits and a walk in two-thirds of an inning, Loe also allowed all three inherited runners to score. Entering the game, Loe had stranded 18 of 23 inherited runners.

While Loe was able to get the Reds to hit it on the ground as intended, their grounders did not work out the way he would have liked.

“They hit them too hard. I want soft ground balls, feeble contact,” Loe said. “They might have been ground balls, but not the kind I would have liked. They hit good pitches, too, so give them credit.

“They’ve got a good lineup, man. All series, I didn’t see too many bad swings.”

Loe’s ERA jumped to 1.97, but his performance in the sixth paled in comparison to the rough eighth inning for Carlos Villanueva.

With the Brewers hanging around down just three runs, Villanueva entered in the eighth to hold the Reds in check and give the top of the Brewers’ order a chance to turn the game around in the bottom half of the frame.

Instead, after playing plenty of small ball over the first seven innings, the Reds showed off the power stroke in the eighth.

Villanueva gave up a pair of singles and walked pinch-hitter Mike Leake, before surrendering a towering grand slam to deep left field off the bat of Brandon Phillips. Two batters later, Joey Votto put another out to left, making it 10-2 and putting the game out of reach.

“That grand slam just opened the game wide open,” Macha said. “The first rally, the first five runs, they put the ball in play, they give you good at-bats with two strikes, they’re not afraid to hit the ball the other way.

“Starting the second rally, we got bunts for a base hit, they got the hit-and-run there, the squeeze play, they stole some bases on us here. They’ve got a lot of ways to score.”

Offensively for the Brewers, left fielder Ryan Braun and Jonathan Lucroy each drove in a run as the Crew took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth.

While the game was still in reach in the seventh, center fielder Carlos Gomez led off with a double to the corner in left. He tried to stretch it to a triple, though, and was thrown out a third by Reds left fielder Jonny Gomes.

“I got him on the hop all the way from the wall. It was good,” Gomes said. “It was only 5-2 at the time. A leadoff triple might turn the game around. It was a big out for us.”

Afterward, Gomez shared a similar mindset with Gomes as he defended his mistake.

“In a situation like this, you want to make something happen and wake up the team,” Gomez said.

Milwaukee was unable to put anything together the rest of the way, as second baseman Rickie Weeks’ leadoff single in the eighth would be the last hit of the game for the Crew.

Adding insult to injury, first baseman Prince Fielder was ejected by home-plate umpire Mike DiMuro after he was called out on strikes to end the eighth inning.

After putting together a Miller Park-best seven-game home win streak and winning five in a row overall, the Brewers head to Houston having lost two in a row and dropping back to nine games out of first place in the National League Central.

“I think we just look up to the next series,” Narveson said. “We leave this behind us and try to go into Houston and get right back on that winning streak.

“It’s all about winning games.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

No fun in the sun again for the Brewers

June 30, 2010 Comments off

MILWAUKEE — Blame it on the shadows. Or the mistakes on the basepaths.

Whatever it was, the Brewers had another poor showing on Wednesday in a day game at Miller Park, which is starting to become a trend.

Offensive struggles in home day games continued for the Brewers, as Astros left-hander Wandy Rodriguez quieted Milwaukee, which lost, 5-1, to drop its first series of the homestand.

“We had just a couple chances to score,” said Brewers manager Ken Macha. “And we didn’t get it done. We had first and second, one out in the third inning, then we had a leadoff double in the sixth down by one and wound up having two outs on the bases there.”

Part of the problem offensively for Milwaukee was those outs on the basepaths. In the second, McGehee was caught off third on a grounder to third baseman Chris Johnson. As he returned, he tried to step over Johnson, but was called out.

Four innings later, McGehee doubled to lead off the sixth. Rookie catcher Jonathan Lucroy followed by bouncing one to Rodriguez, who faked to first before getting McGehee at third. During the next at-bat, Lucroy compounded the problem, as he was caught stealing second.

As strong as the Brewers have been overall offensively this season, they have struggled to hit well at home during day games. Through 15 home day games, the Brewers have just a .236 (123-for-521) team batting average, with just 52 runs scored and 15 home runs.

The offense looked good early in the second and third, but the Brewers only scored the one run in the second, combining to leave four runners on base in the two innings. Over the final six innings, the Crew was unable to put much together.

Rodriguez (5-10) tossed seven strong innings, giving up just one run on seven hits as he walked one and recorded six strikeouts.

“I thought his curveball was real good,” Macha said of Rodriguez. “When he got some guys on he went to that curveball, Rodriguez did, and it was very good.”

The Astros’ lefty outdueled Brewers starter Dave Bush, who went six innings, allowing two runs on five hits while walking five with three strikeouts.

Just as the Brewers have struggled at Miller Park during the day, the Astros knew coming in what kind of effect the shadows could have in the late innings of afternoon contests. With that in mind, they were happy to plate a pair against Bush.

“Playing in this ballpark, and when the shadows creep in, it was kind of nice to get those hits early in the game,” Astros shortstop Geoff Blum said. “You’ve got to be patient with Bush. He’s got four quality pitches, and fortunately for myself, he left a couple up and I was able to find some holes.”

Blum went 2-for-3 on the day with three runs scored, a double and two walks. In the fourth, Blum’s double sparked a two-hit, two-walk inning for the Astros that led to Houston tying the game at 1 on a wild pitch.

In the sixth, Blum’s leadoff walk resulted in the eventual winning run, which he scored on a perfectly executed suicide squeeze by Rodriguez.

Despite his third straight quality start, Bush (3-6) took the loss.

“It’s a disappointing game to lose,” Bush said. “But Rodriguez pitched really well. And he pitched a little bit better than I did. So good job for him, and he earned it for sure.”

It was reliever Carlos Villanueva, though, who let the Astros take control of the ballgame. Villanueva surrendered three runs on three hits in just two-thirds of an inning.

After taking the lead in the sixth, the Astros plated three runs in the seventh on three doubles off Villanueva.

“My job there is to keep the game the same way it is when I come in,” Villanueva said. “They hit my mistakes. I thought I made a couple [of] good pitches, but when I needed an out pitch there, I left the ball up and they put pretty good swings on them.”

With the loss, the Brewers finished 3-3 over the final six games of the homestand after sweeping the first-place Minnesota Twins to open the nine-game stretch at Miller Park.

While the end result, a 6-3 homestand, was good for the Brewers, the way they got there — especially in losing two of three to the fifth-place Astros — was not.

“We’ve got to go to St. Louis, and we’re going to have to play a little better than this [losing] two out of the three here,” Macha said. “Six and three on the homestand. [You] just look at it and say, before the homestand, you’d have taken that. But after the start we had, it’s a little disappointing.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Brewers’ early lead vanishes vs. Astros

June 29, 2010 Comments off

MILWAUKEE — For three innings, it was like the Brewers were back in May.

Just as they seemed to be rolling right along, leading by four runs early and by three through five innings, the Brewers had a stretch on Monday in which they looked more like the club that lost nine in a row in the middle of May than the one that had won six of seven.

Brewers pitchers Manny Parra, Carlos Villanueva, Todd Coffey and David Riske combined to give up seven runs in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings to allow Houston to take the series opener, 9-5, at Miller Park.

“The bullpen, that has been doing very well, tonight didn’t get the job done,” Brewers manager Ken Macha said.

Coffey (2-2), who gave up two unearned runs, took the loss, though a defensive miscue by Casey McGehee at third base did not make things easy on him.

After Villanueva gave up an RBI single and a walk with two outs in the sixth, Coffey entered and promptly surrendered a two-run single to Hunter Pence, tying the game at 5.

“To their credit, they got some big two-out hits, and two-strike hits,” Macha said. “[Michael] Bourn, that was a big hit off of Villa, went the other way with it to left field. Then we brought in Coffey to get Pence and first-pitch swinging he got a hanging slider. So there were two big hits there in that inning.”

In the seventh, though, a fielding error by McGehee allowed the leadoff batter, Chris Johnson, to reach and contributed to a pair of unearned runs.

Immediately following the error, Coffey gave up a double on a 1-0 fastball to Pedro Feliz, which scored Johnson from first and gave the Astros their first lead.

According to Coffey, the error did not impact on his performance.

“It didn’t at all,” Coffey said. “I still can’t give up a double two pitches later. I’ve got to get it done. I didn’t get it done. I made [Zach] Braddock come in and clean up my mess.”

For Coffey, it was his third outing since returning from the 15-day disabled list. In those three outings, Coffey has given up four runs — two earned — in one inning while surrendering five hits and one walk with zero strikeouts.

After Braddock finished up the seventh, allowing an inherited runner to score on a single, David Riske, who had not allowed a run in six appearances entering the game, gave up two more. Riske opened the inning by allowing a walk, single and double, all but ending any hopes of a comeback.

It was an impressive offensive night for the Astros, who tallied 14 hits, including three doubles and a homer. With the solo blast in the third, Bourn snapped a streak of 542 at-bats without a homer, dating to July 10, 2009.

Bourn, Pence and Feliz each tallied three hits, while Bourn added a fourth, tying a career high.

“We had a good offensive night,” Pence said. “We found some holes and put the barrel on the ball quite a bit. It feels good. I think the way Bourn swung it today and Keppinger was on the base all the time and Carlos [Lee] had some big hits, all the way up and down we swung it well.”

After entering the game with the second-best ERA (2.33) in the Majors as a staff over the past seven days, Brewers pitchers seemed to do everything they hadn’t been doing over their recent stretch of strong performances.

In particular, the Brewers gave up six walks, after the club’s walk totals had been down during its recent run.

Additionally, after leading 4-0 in the second, the club tied a season high for the biggest blown lead of the season.

“We had a bunch of walks tonight and that hasn’t been happening,” Macha said. “[We gave up] a bunch of free bases, six free bases.”

Parra came up short of a quality start once again, by one inning and one run. Over the past 16 games, the Brewers have gotten 10 quality starts with a 3.23 ERA from their starters.

Once he got over the 100-pitch mark, however, Parra’s command — which was already a bit off as he gave up four walks — got away from him.

“It’s disappointing that we lost,” Parra said. “I just wasn’t sharp. [It was] kind of a battle. I didn’t really have any consistency with any pitches. … Nothing was really there. I was just battling and trying to get guys out with whatever I could.

“It didn’t work out for us.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.