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Wolf flies under the radar in lopsided victory

September 22, 2010 Comments off

MILWAUKEE — On any other night, Randy Wolf’s performance would have been the story of the game. But with the way the Brewers hitters were swinging the bats in a 13-1 victory over the Reds, a quality start and a 2-for-4 performance at the plate got lost in the shuffle.

Making Wolf’s outing even more impressive was the way he responded after his club put up eight runs in the second and five more in the next three innings. Often with such long innings offensively, a team’s pitcher tends to struggle going back out on the mound.

Wolf just got better as the game went along.

“There were some long breaks, but the main thing is, when it’s that kind of score, you’ve got to go out there and feel like it’s 0-0,” Wolf said. “If you go out there and you see it’s 8-1, 13-1 … all of a sudden it’s four runs, five runs and they’re creeping their way back.

“As a pitcher, you’ve got to keep your focus and pitch the right way. You really don’t want to totally change your aggressiveness or change your whole philosophy just because of the score.”

Not only did Wolf pitch well as his team sent 34 hitters to the plate in the second through fifth innings, he did so after fighting through a rough first inning.

Wolf opened the game giving up three singles and a walk in the top of the first. Fortunately, the veteran lefty managed to hold the National League Central-leading Reds to just one run in the inning.

“Wolfy, another good outing for him,” said Brewers manager Ken Macha. “He got help with some defense in the first inning, a tremendous play by [Ryan] Braun getting the ball off the wall to get their leadoff hitter.”

With a fortunate out on his side, Wolf got the next batter to hit a grounder back to the mound. But with just one out to go in the inning, he walked Jay Bruce and surrendered back-to-back singles before striking out Yonder Alonso to end the inning.

That strikeout was the first of four in a row for Wolf and the beginning of a stretch of 11 consecutive batters retired. Wolf did not allow another hit until a leadoff double in the sixth off the bat of Paul Janish, who replaced Orlando Cabrera at shortstop.

“I didn’t really have the command I wanted early on,” Wolf said. “Luckily, as the game went on, I felt better and better and felt more comfortable out there and I was able to mix my pitches and work my fastball in and out.”

Tossing six strong innings while allowing just one run on four hits with seven strikeouts against two walks, Wolf posted his fourth straight quality start in September. This month, Wolf is 3-1 with a 1.21 ERA, allowing just four runs on 18 hits in 29 2/3 innings pitched.

Since his infamous 12-run outing in Pittsburgh, Wolf has gone 6-2 with a 2.57 ERA in his last 11 starts, giving up 21 earned runs over 73 2/3 innings pitched. In his 31 other starts not including that July 21 loss, Wolf is 13-10 with a 3.81 ERA.

“Randy was great again,” shortstop Craig Counsell said. “He’s been on quite a roll, and he’s put together a good season — a really good season.”

Mulligan: Wolf uses golf to regain consistency

September 16, 2010 Comments off

MILWAUKEE — A year ago, Randy Wolf put together a career-best season with the Dodgers. From start to finish, Wolf was one of the league’s most consistent pitchers as he posted a handful of career-best numbers, including 214 1/3 innings pitched and a 1.101 WHIP.

Opening the 2010 season with the Milwaukee Brewers, that consistency seemed to escape Wolf. He looked nothing like the pitcher he was for Los Angeles, stumbling out to a 4-6 record with a 5.31 ERA through 13 starts in the first two months of the season.

“I just knew something wasn’t right,” Wolf said of his struggles.

Over that stretch, Wolf mixed in impressive outings: He tossed six scoreless innings at Pittsburgh on April 20 and seven scoreless against the Astros on May 25. More frequently, however, Wolf struggled, as he did in allowing eight runs over 4 2/3 on June 9 to the Cubs.

As he watched his club’s newly acquired veteran left-hander struggle, Brewers pitching coach Rick Peterson struggled himself as he searched for an answer.

“You’re trying to pinpoint what exactly it is. Why exactly is he struggling? What’s different from the year before and this year?” Peterson said.

“So I went and I looked at all the Pitch-f/x information going back three years, taking a look at his vertical and horizontal movement on all his pitches, and the velocities on all his pitches. They were all the same. It was actually identical.”

If his stuff was the same early in 2010 as it was throughout the last three seasons, why were Wolf’s numbers so much more inconsistent?

Following his rough outing on June 9, Wolf bounced back, going 3-2 with a 3.25 ERA over his next seven starts. Wolf’s next start after that stretch, July 21 at Pittsburgh, was his worst yet. Entering with a 4.56 ERA, Wolf surrendered a career-high 12 runs on 13 hits over 5 2/3 innings pitched, causing his ERA to jump to 5.20.

While that Pittsburgh outing certainly was forgettable, the silver lining was that it marked the date Peterson and Wolf finally figured out what change was necessary.

“The difference from this year to the past, was that he just wasn’t making pitches,” Peterson said. “For whatever reason, he was missing location consistently. Everything else was the same, but that makes a huge difference.

“What I think had happened was that his slow tempo had worked for a long period of time, but now it was almost so slow that it was affecting his release point and his ability to execute pitches.”

But the question that remained was how to get Wolf, who told Peterson in Spring Training that he liked to keep his tempo slow, to speed things up with his delivery.

Recognizing that Wolf typically operates with a much more athletic, upbeat tempo when not pitching, Peterson used another sport to explain to Wolf the importance of tempo.

“We play some golf, so I said, ‘Show me the tempo in your golf swing,'” Peterson said. “I said, ‘See if you can put the same tempo into your delivery as you do your golf swing.'”

What did Wolf think of the comparison of the tempo in his delivery to his golf swing?

“I think that he thinks I’m a better golfer than I am,” Wolf quipped. “But it makes sense. Even as an amateur or beginning golfer … with anything you do a rhythm is very important.

“You don’t want to go so slow and then fast. You want to start slow and quicken up as you go, not just instantly. I think just talking to him about it, I became more aware of it and paid attention to it more so than usual.”

Since getting touched up for 12 runs in Pittsburgh two months ago, Wolf has quickened the tempo in his delivery, while paying closer attention to what a different rhythm can do to his pitches. At times, he has found the need to slow it down a bit, while speeding up at others.

In nine starts since that outing against the Pirates, Wolf has looked as good as he has all season. Wolf is 4-2 with a 3.07 ERA over that stretch, allowing just 20 runs in 58 2/3 innings of work.

Wolf also has put up his two most impressive performances of the season in the same stretch: He tossed 8 1/3 innings of three-hit, one-run ball in St. Louis on Aug. 18, and gave up just one run on four hits in eight innings in his last outing on Sunday.

It took nearly four months, but Wolf is finally pitching with the kind of consistency that the Brewers expected him to show when signing him to a three-year deal in the offseason.

“Is this what we expected? This is the kind of command and the kind of process we expected,” Peterson said. “If he can get that process, he’s going to pitch well every time. More importantly, that’s what Randy expects of himself.”

With four starts remaining this season, Wolf is still focused on what he can do in 2010, though he certainly hopes to put together a more consistent 2011 campaign.

After his last start, Wolf talked about wanting to start strong, stay strong and finish strong. While the first two months may have gotten away from him, it’s hard to argue against the way he’s closing out the season.

“It’s frustrating at times, but when you get 33-34 starts, you keep on learning and just get better. I look at those bad games as an opportunity to get better, learn from it and just move on,” Wolf said.

“There are times definitely where you don’t pitch well, but you’ve just got to get over it and put it behind you. If you dwell on it and feel sorry for yourself, it’s going to be a really long year.”

Manny’s perfect night paces Dodgers

August 26, 2010 Comments off

MILWAUKEE — If his start in left field on Wednesday turns out to be his last in a Dodgers uniform, Manny Ramirez certainly went out on a high note in a 5-4 win over the Brewers at Miller Park.

Before the club’s second game against the Brewers, the buzz surrounding the Dodgers involved the club having reportedly placed Ramirez on the waiver wire. In his third game back from the disabled list, Ramirez showed why he’s generated so much interest.

With a double into the right-field corner in the third inning, Ramirez snapped an 0-for-7 streak at the plate since returning from the DL.

“Manny had a real good night,” said Dodgers manager Joe Torre. “When he gets his timing, that’s where he starts, hitting the other way. Then he had the big base hit, the RBI base hit. That was huge for us too.

“It’s all about timing with him. I’m not really concerned about home run production. It’s just production period. Hopefully this will make him feel pretty good about himself.”

Ramirez certainly seemed to have figured out his struggles, putting together an impressive night as he alternated walks and doubles. Ramirez finished 2-for-2 with two walks, two doubles, an RBI and a run scored.

Most importantly, Ramirez’s two-out double in the sixth drove in second baseman Ryan Theriot for what proved to be the deciding run.

With a scheduled day off Thursday for Ramirez as the Dodgers play a day game after a night game, Wednesday’s performance may have come in Ramirez’s final start with the Dodgers. If Ramirez was indeed put on waivers Wednesday, and if he is claimed by another club, he could be traded as soon as Friday and no later than Tuesday.

As long as he’s still with the team, the Dodgers hope Ramirez’s bat can help them get back in the National League Wild Card race.

“Any time Manny’s in the lineup, you know the other team’s thinking about that’s one of the guys they don’t want to beat them,” the Dodgers’ James Loney said. “It definitely puts a force in our lineup.”

Ramirez was stranded after a first-inning walk and thrown out at the plate attempting to score from second after his third-inning double, ending the frame. In the fifth, he walked again with one out, and came around to score on a Loney single.

While Ramirez led the offense, right-handed starter Hiroki Kuroda — who also was reported Wednesday as having been placed on waivers — delivered a strong performance for his first win since July 22.

Kuroda, who admitted he didn’t have his best stuff, went seven innings for the fourth straight start, giving up four runs on seven hits while striking out six as he did not walk a batter.

“In these six games, there’s been many games where I’ve pitched really well, but I couldn’t get the win,” Kuroda said. “It’s a bit frustrating at times, but you’ve got to keep pitching tough and the results will come.”

After a giving up a big three-run inning to the Brewers in the fourth, Kuroda and the Dodgers’ bullpen combined to limit Milwaukee to just two baserunners the rest of the way.

While Kuroda went deep into the ballgame, the late innings continued to be an adventure for the Dodgers as Torre used four different relievers for the final two frames.

After Jonathan Broxton shut down the Brewers in order in the eighth, Torre turned to a three-man closer unit for the ninth, matching up Ronald Belisario, George Sherrill and Octavio Dotel for one batter each against Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and Casey McGehee.

“Last night, the lefty [Hong-Chih Kuo] was a closer. Sherrill is a closer. Broxton is a closer. Dotel is a closer,” said Brewers manager Ken Macha. “Belisario, he probably has the best stuff out of all of them. So, if you don’t have the lead after six innings, you’re in trouble.”

Former Dodgers lefty Randy Wolf was roughed up in his first start against his former team, giving up four runs on seven hits over just five innings of work. Wolf (10-10) also walked three batters and recorded four strikeouts.

Andre Ethier put the Dodgers on the board first in the third inning with a solo home run, his 20th of the season. A three-run fifth — highlighted by Theriot and Casey Blake doubles — and a final run in the fifth gave the Dodgers their second straight win.

With the Giants having lost to the Reds in extra innings Wednesday afternoon, the Dodgers moved to within 5 1/2 games of the Giants and Phillies, who are tied for the lead in the National League Wild Card race. Having won the first two games in Milwaukee, the Dodgers secured at least a series victory over the Brewers and will look for the sweep on Thursday.

The series win is the Dodgers’ first on the road since taking two of three from the D-backs on July 2-4.

“My goal for this team right now is to get ourselves five or six in a row under our belt, so we can know when we go to the ballpark that we expect to win,” Torre said. “We haven’t been able to string it together.

“Hopefully winning two close games here gives us the confidence to win another one tomorrow.”

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

Astros beat 8/8

August 8, 2010 Comments off

Keppinger moves to third spot in lineup

MILWAUKEE — With the way Jeff Keppinger has been hitting this season, his manager said he would be comfortable batting him just about anywhere in the lineup.

Anywhere included the No. 3 spot on Sunday as Astros manager Brad Mills shook up his lineup a bit in the series finale with the Brewers.

“I like Hunter [Pence] behind the guys who are getting on base,” Mills said. “Hunter seems to find some way to get hits. It might not be the prettiest thing all the time, but he finds ways to get hits.”

Keppinger, along with Michael Bourn and Angel Sanchez, has been as consistent as anyone in the Houston lineup when it comes to getting on base. Entering the game Sunday, Keppinger, Sanchez and Bourn had on-base percentages of .355, .353 and .328, respectively.

Only rookies Brett Wallace (.409) and Chris Johnson (.383) had higher on-base percentages than Keppinger. But with the inexperience of Wallace and Johnson, the manager preferred them in the No. 6 and No. 7 spots.

“He’ll do a good job in any spot,” Mills said of Keppinger. “He continues to get on and have good at-bats. If we can get that guy hitting in front of Hunter, we’ll be all right.”

Sanchez’s bunt attempt earns Mills’ praise

MILWAUKEE — With a runner on and one out in the seventh on Saturday, rookie shortstop Angel Sanchez laid down a bunt toward third base that looked like a sure base hit.

Brewers left-hander Randy Wolf had other ideas, though, as he made a spectacular defensive play for the out, which later earned Wolf the night’s top “Web Gem” on ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight.”

Despite the outcome, manager Brad Mills praised the decision of Sanchez.

“Angel did a good job of giving it a shot there to get the inning going,” Mills said. “It was a good time to do it.”

Sanchez has been impressive since he was acquired from the Red Sox, solidifying the shortstop position in the absence of Tommy Manzella and Geoff Blum.

Most impressive to his manager, though, has been his comfort level with just doing what he’s capable of and not trying to do more than that.

“That’s what he does, he stays in his lane,” Mills said. “That’s all he has to do. When guys try to do more than they can do or they get out of their lane, sometimes you don’t know what to expect. It’s nice if you can pencil a guy in and you know what to expect.

“He’s going to have some good at-bats. He’s going to be able to move runners, he’s going to drive some guys in at times. That’s huge.”

Astros hope younger lineup helps future

MILWAUKEE — When the Astros opened the season, they had question marks all over the field, except the outfield. Looking at Sunday’s lineup, the outfield remained the same as Opening Day, and the rest was far from it.

Every infield position had a different starter Sunday than the Astros had for the first game of the season. With that in mind, manager Brad Mills hoped the end of this season would make for a better start to the next.

“That’s the biggest thing about being able to play young guys at the end of the season,” Mills said. “So you’re able to answer questions about them going into the following year, because you can’t always find out that many answers in Spring Training.”

That difference between Spring Training and the regular season is one reason Mills is an advocate for bringing up Minor League players and playing a younger lineup when the roster can be expanded in September.

Although he acknowledged that September is not exactly like the first five months of the season, Mills still thinks experience in the season’s final month is more valuable than Spring Training.

“The season is a different animal,” Mills said. “[September] is different, but at the same time it’s closer to it than Spring Training, with the fans in the stands and the times of day and the travel. It might not be the same, but it’s as close as you’re going to be able to get. So you can still answer some questions because of that.”

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

Frustrating sixth continues Myers’ streak

August 8, 2010 Comments off

MILWAUKEE — Five pitches into the game, Brett Myers had given up a leadoff inside-the-park homer and a sharp double to the gap in left.

Those turned out to be the hardest hit balls of the night off Myers, but four soft singles did the Astros right-hander in Saturday at Miller Park.

Myers settled down after the Brewers’ first two batters, retiring 15 of the next 17 hitters he faced. With one out in the sixth, Myers surrendered four straight singles, which led to two more Brewers runs and the Astros’ 5-2 loss.

Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks led off the bottom of the first with a bang, driving an 0-2 fastball off the wall in left-center field. Weeks hustled around for an inside-the-park home run and his seventh career leadoff homer, a franchise record.

Center fielder Jason Bourgeois looked to have a play on the Weeks fly ball, but it got by him and caromed off the wall away from him.

“I thought I had a bead on it. I got a good jump, it just happened to get over my glove,” Bourgeois said. “I thought everything was going right, but it’s a game of inches. It got over.

“A little off line. That’s what I think it was when I looked at the replay. I wish I could have another try at it, but it’s the way the game goes.”

Bourgeois tracked the ball down quickly, but was too late to catch Weeks.

“I knew I had to get it, because I know Rickie can run a little bit,” Bourgeois said. “It just happened to get a little bit away from me. Hats off to him, he was hustling the whole time.”

Corey Hart followed with a double to the gap in left and came around to score after a pair of groundouts, giving Milwaukee the early 2-0 lead.

In the sixth, four straight singles by Hart, Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and Casey McGehee brought home two more runs, and eventually ended Myers’ night after just 78 pitches.

“The first inning, I made some mistakes,” Myers said. “That first inning I’m fine with. The sixth inning, those are the frustrating ones, when you make good pitches and they end up finding holes. That’s baseball. That’s the way things go for you.”

Tossing six innings in the loss, Myers’ streak of consecutive starts of six or more innings continued Saturday.

Extending his franchise record streak to 23 straight starts to open the season, Myers gave up four runs on seven hits in those six innings while walking one and striking out two.

In the second through fifth innings, Myers faced only one over the minimum as he gave up just one hit — which was followed by a double play — and a walk.

“Brett threw the ball extremely well again,” manager Brad Mills said. “I say it every time, he’s been unbelievable all year long. Tonight he gave us a chance again.”

Myers was outdueled by former Phillies teammate Randy Wolf, though, who effectively shut down the Astros’ bats over 6 2/3 innings in his first start since being hit with a Hunter Pence line drive on Sunday.

Wolf kept the Astros hitters off balance all night, walking just one batter while recording four strikeouts. Although he did give up nine hits, Wolf stranded seven runners over the first five innings.

As if Wolf’s strong outing on the mound weren’t enough, he made a tremendous defensive play in the seventh, tossing out shortstop Angel Sanchez at first on a bunt between the mound and the third-base line.

“He made a lot of big pitches to get out of those innings,” Brewers manager Ken Macha said. “In the seventh inning, when Sanchez laid that bunt down, I thought he made a tremendous play. That was a huge help there.”

With the loss, Houston finds itself having dropped three straight on the heels of a season-high seven-game winning streak. In each of the three games, the pitching — Wandy Rodriguez’s start on Friday aside — has not been as sharp as it had been of late.

But the offense hasn’t helped either.

Astros hitters went just 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position Saturday night, with the only hits being the back-to-back doubles in the seventh that plated both Houston runs. Add a 3-for-15 night on Friday, and the Astros have gone 5-for-26 (.192) with runners in scoring position for the series.

“Any time that you go for a long string and leave a lot of runners on, it is going to catch up with you, if not that night, eventually,” Mills said. “We’re having some good at-bats, it’s just that it didn’t string together through the whole lineup tonight.

“They were able to put some hits back-to-back-to-back, even if they weren’t hit hard. Where we might have had quite a few hits, we weren’t able to string them all together.”

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

Wolf on track to make next start

August 4, 2010 Comments off

CHICAGO — Randy Wolf said earlier this week that he expected to make his scheduled start Saturday. Three days after being hit by a line drive on his left wrist, it appears that will be the case.

When asked about Wolf on Monday, manager Ken Macha didn’t share the same outlook as the veteran left-hander. Instead, he pointed out that the off-day Thursday would allow them to push Wolf back from Saturday to Tuesday.

Wolf said Wednesday morning that as long as he continued to feel OK, he would be on track to make his start Saturday. Following a pregame bullpen session, Wolf’s mindset remained the same.

“It felt great,” Wolf said. “It was all fine, everything was normal. I’m ready to go.”

MRI negative, Wolf eyes next start

August 3, 2010 Comments off

CHICAGO — When Hunter Pence ripped a liner back up the middle off Randy Wolf in the seventh inning of the Brewers’ 5-2 loss on Sunday in Houston, the Milwaukee left-hander couldn’t get out of the way.

Since that ball struck Wolf’s left wrist, though, he’s dodged quite a bullet with his health.

An MRI scan of Wolf’s wrist confirmed what an X-ray revealed Sunday, that Wolf had no fractures despite being struck with the line drive.

“I don’t think there was anybody around that area at the time that didn’t think it was a broken wrist,” Wolf said. “But I got lucky. I dodged a bullet.

“I guess I was lucky it hit me on that big bone instead of all those little bones.”

Wolf was diagnosed with a bruise and was scheduled to be reevaluated by the Brewers’ medical staff Monday after playing catch before the game to determine how much time, if any, he will miss.

His next scheduled start would be Saturday, again against the Astros, but this time at Miller Park. In Wolf’s opinion, he’s not likely to miss that start.

“It feels normal,” he said. “In my mind, I’m planning on pitching on Saturday.”

Brewers manager Ken Macha, on the other hand, may take a more cautious approach.

“We’ll see what’s happening with him,” Macha said. “Because of the off-day on Thursday, he doesn’t necessarily have to be on Saturday. I think Tuesday would be the night we need five [starters] again.”