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Brewers pitching staff full of late bloomers

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By Tom Haudricourt, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
October 1, 2013

Buoyed by strong showings from young pitchers from their system in the latter stages of the 2012 season, the Milwaukee Brewers opted to stick with internal options for the starting rotation the following spring.

There was a financial component to that decision as the club lowered its payroll after losing money in 2012. And, when options for the rotation weren’t looking so great during spring camp, the decision was made to sign veteran free agent Kyle Lohse before the season began.

It didn’t take long for the starting rotation to knock the Brewers out of the NL Central race in 2013, however. Starters were particularly putrid during a 6-22 May that dropped the Brewers 15 games off the pace by Memorial Day.

“We’re always going to depend on our pitching staff and what happens with them,” said manager Ron Roenicke. “Sometimes you can get by with an average starting staff and a great bullpen, and still overall you’re pretty good. Sometimes it’s the other way.

“We came out and we had some guys we thought were going to really throw well, and they didn’t throw well. We got to a point where our starting staff, for a month, it wasn’t very good.”

Just as in 2012, the rotation got its act together down the stretch. In fact, during September, the starters posted a 2.93 earned run average, the third-best mark in the National League.

So should the Brewers feel good about their re-energized starting pitching as they come off a 74-88 season, or should they be leery again about putting too much stock in stronger performances once the team was out of the running?

“You’d like to go to the park every day saying the guy on the mound gives us a chance to win,” said general manager Doug Melvin. “That’s what you’d like to do.

“Our pitching got much better. We’re ninth in the major leagues since the all-star break. Our pitching was better than four teams going to the playoffs since the all-star game. The important thing is the pitching we had in the second half continues next year.”

As it stands now, Kyle Lohse, Yovani Gallardo and Wily Peralta stand to be the first three pitchers in the rotation for next season. All three had horrid Mays but rebounded to finish a combined 34-35 with a 3.95 ERA.

Right-hander Marco Estrada, who struggled through the first half (4-4, 5.32) before spending nearly two months on the DL with hamstring issues, poured it on at the end, compiling a 2.15 ERA over his final nine starts. Rookie Tyler Thornburg threw his hat in the ring by making quality starts in all seven chances he was given in the rotation.

Rookie Johnny Hellweg (1-4, 6.75) was too wild to be penciled into the rotation at this point, and Jimmy Nelson’s one start provided only a glimpse of what he might have to offer. With Tom Gorzelanny slated to return to relief work, the Brewers don’t have a left-hander in the rotation and might look around to fill that void.

“Some of the young guys have thrown well,” Roenicke said Sunday before the Brewers ended their season with a 3-2 loss in New York. “Certainly, Thornburg, the way he has come on, will certainly be in the picture next year, unless we go out and sign somebody.

“We did the same thing last year, finished playing really well in the second half. But it’s very important for us to do this from the get-go.”

There were offensive issues as well, much of it centering on health. Two knee surgeries prevented Corey Hart from taking the field all year; Aramis Ramirez played all season on one good leg; and Ryan Braun battled a recurring thumb injury before being suspended for the final 65 games of the season.

“Cincinnati had two guys (Joey Votto, Shin-Soo Choo) with 700 plate appearances, five guys with over 600 plate appearances,” said Melvin. “We had two (Norichika Aoki, Jean Segura) with 600. You’d like to have five guys with 600 plate appearances. And you’d like to have four starters that start 28 games or above.

“The biggest drop-off was in our offense over the course of the year. It’s the first year since 2006 that we slugged under .400 (.398). We’ve got challenges. Our ballpark is a hitter’s park. We pitched pretty well other than April and May. We couldn’t stop the spiral.

“You take away May and we’ve been a .500 ball club. That may be who we were this year—a .500 ball club. That doesn’t win your division; that doesn’t get you to the playoffs.”

Which means there is work to do this offseason. The good news is that the Brewers don’t need a total teardown. They do need strategic and productive augmentation.

“We have the core (group returning),” said Roenicke. “We need to stay healthy in that core.”



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