Roenicke botches the 7th, causes loss

By Nathan Petrashek (@npetrashek)

I’ve watched a lot of baseball, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like what happened in the 7th inning of yesterday’s 5-4 loss to the Atlanta Braves.

The wheels started to fall off a quality start for Matt Garza when, with the Brewers up 4-2, he allowed a pair of singles to start the bottom of the inning.  Garza departed with one out, and Brandon Kintzler was summoned to face righty Gerald Laird, who hit a ground ball to third that deflected off Mark Reynolds’ glove and trickled into left to score Chris Johnson. MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Arizona Diamondbacks

That’s when things took a decidedly damning turn for Ron Roenicke.  With Ryan Doumit batting, Roenicke summoned a lefty … only none had been getting loose.  When Roenicke walked out to the mound, the bullpen was visibly panicked.  Zach Duke wound up emerging from the gates, but Roenicke had already made the substitution for Will Smith.  So Duke returned to the bullpen and the cold-armed Smith took the mound.  Braves manager Freddi Gonzalez insisted on adherence to the eight-pitch rule, and that’s all the warming Smith was able to do.

Home plate umpire Fieldin Culbreth was so concerned about the potential for injury that he tried to bend the rules and get Smith more warm-up pitches.  He even initiated a psudo-replay review to see if there was any way to help Smith, but nothing could be done.  And that falls squarely on Ron Roenicke.

The results were predictable, and as Rock said on the broadcast, Smith showed all the signs of coming in cold.  Smith allowed back-to-back singles and walked the third batter before being lifted.  Roenicke compounded his bullpen mismanagement by bringing the infield in with only one out and the go-ahead run on second, and the Braves took a 5-4 lead on the first single.

Roenicke’s post-game explanation made virtually no sense.  The Brewers were down pitching coach Rick Kranitz and bullpen coach Lee Tunnell, both of whom were attending family graduations.  But there were fill-ins in minor-league pitching coordinator Rick Tomlin and bullpen coach Marcus Hanel, respectively.  Roenicke said Kranitz usually takes care of calling the bullpen, and he simply assumed-wrongly-that Tomlin would, too.  But then, for some reason, he also sent Martin Maldonado to the bullpen:

“You do things the same way every day and when it changes, it just changes what goes on. I had to make the change. I sent Maldy (backup catcher Martin Maldonado) to run down to the bullpen because we needed two guys up. Maldy went down there and said, ‘I think it’s (Zach) Duke,’ but he never got the call on who it was. So, we didn’t call.”

While the situation provides an interesting glimpse into the daily work of the pitching coach and the importance of his relationship with the manager, the failure to get it right in this case is utterly inexplicable.  There are monitors showing a feed of the bullpen in the Atlanta dugouts.  There’s a phone in the dugout with a direct line to the bullpen.  And it’s apparently pretty easy to send someone to personally check on the bullpen during a game.

How, then, it was possible for Roenicke to mess this up is beyond me.  But rarely do you see a loss traceable so directly and tangibly to mismanagement.  After the game, Roenicke said the loss was “going to be hard on me.”  It should be.

Everyone panic about bullpen use! and a bit of news

By Nathan Petrashek

bullpenThe Brewers are currently on an 8-game win streak, and everyone has rightfully mentioned what a critical part the bullpen has played in that streak.  Will Smith, Brandon Kintzler, Francisco Rodriguez, and Jim Henderson are unscored upon, and Tyler Thornburg, who leads the ‘pen with 7.2 inning pitched, has allowed just one earned run (1.17 ERA).  Opposing hitters are batting just .155 and have struck out 42 times against the Brewers’ relief corps, with just 8 walks.  The bullpen bears a sparkling 0.83 ERA, easily the best in baseball.*

But have they been overused, as some seem to think?  Probably not.  The Brewers ‘pen has tallied 32.2 innings, the 10th most-used bullpen in the National League and 18th in all of baseball.  Relievers for five teams have pitched over 40 innings, and another five are pretty close.  The Brewers seem to be pretty middle-of-the-pack as far as bullpen usage goes, and they’ve certainly been much more effective than even many less-used bullpens.

What about individual players?  Not much to worry about here either.  Tyler Thornburg is on pace to throw 100 innings; Thornburg tossed 130 last year between Nashville and Milwaukee (and was great in his final starts for the Brewers).  Will Smith (6 IP) is on pace for 88 innings.  Smith pitched 89 minor-league innings and 89 major-league innings in as a starter 2012, and a total of 122 innings between levels last year.  Henderson (4.1 IP)  is on pace for 60 innings and pitched 60 in 2013.  The one guy who is even remotely worrisome is the closer, K-Rod (6 IP), and he’s simply had more work lately because, well, the Brewers are winning lots of games.  That’ll even out over time.  In essence, this is a bullpen that can handle a bigger workload.

It’s not like there’s a shortage of arms, either.  The Brewers haven’t even used Wei-Chung Wang, a lefthanded Rule 5 pick from the Pirates.  And *here’s the news* Brandon Kinzler has landed on the DL with a rotator cuff strain, and Rob Wooten has taken his place.  It sounds like Kintzler’s injury is relatively minor but lingering since spring training.  At least we won’t have to worry about him racking up more innings, I guess.

Although people complain about the starting rotation’s failure to pitch deep into games, it seems to me they’re doing exactly what they need to be at this stage of the season.  Here’s the number of innings each starter has pitched in every game during the win steak: 5.2, 5, 6.2, 5, 6, 6, 7, 6.   I can’t see much wrong with that in early April.

Where We’re At

If you’d have told Ron Roenicke, whose squad was reeling with injuries at the end of spring training, that the Brewers would be playing .500 ball on the verge of getting Zack Greinke and Corey Hart back, I’m sure he’d have said, “I’ll take it.”

Hart and Greinke, two key cogs in the Brewers’ postseason aspirations, are slated to return at the end of April.  Hart began his rehab assignment Tuesday at AAA Nashville, going 0-2 with a strikeout.  The Brewers expect that he will need about 20 at-bats before he is ready to come off the DL.  Greinke has also been moved to Nashville after facing one over the minimum in three innings of scoreless ball at Class A Brevard County.

The Brewers have plenty of other injured players, though.  Sergio Mitre still has not pitched after being hit by a line drive on April 18, though he should be back soon.  Nyjer Morgan was placed on the DL today after a thigh bruise he sustained in an unnecessary collision with Pittsburgh catcher Ryan Doumit failed to heal; Brandon Boggs has been recalled from AAA to take his place.  Manny Parra (back) is improving and is expected back in late April, as is offseason acquisition Takashi Saito (hamstring). 

The pitching injuries have left the Brewers a bit short, but, by and large, the replacements have performed spectacularly.  Marco Estrada is 1-0 in two starts with a 3.46 ERA.  And aside from one mistake pitch to Shane Victorino that cost the Brewers a win against Philly, Brandon Kintzler has performed admirably (1-1, 3.86 era, 6:1 k:bb). 

The Brewers (9-9) are currently third in the Central behind St. Louis (10-9) and Cincinnati (10-9). 

The Crew starts a three-game home series tonight against the Astros (7-12) featuring ace Yovani Gallardo (1-1, 4.62 era, 13:9 k:bb) versus righty Nelson Figueroa (0-2, 7.31 era).  Gallardo has struggled mightily in his past two starts, but looks to get back on track tonight against a weak offensive lineup.  Gallardo has never lost to the Astros in Milwaukee, so lets hope the trend continues.

Brewers/Phillies Postgame, 4.18.2011

It’s late, and so much happened in tonight’s extra-innings win over the Phillies that not even Ron Roenicke can keep it all straight.  So I’ll make just a few brief points.

First off, Shaun Marcum looked absolutely dominant for a second straight start.  This is probably even more than the Brewers expected when the traded top prospect Brett Lawrie to Toronto during the offseason.  The defense wasted the outing, but we should not overlook Marcum’s performance.  The Phillies are an offensive beast even without Chase Utley, and Marcum completely tamed them. 

His final line tonight: 
Marcum pitching line 4.18.2011.png

Speaking of pitching, congratulations to Brandon Kintzler, who pitched two scoreless innings in relief tonight and picked up his first major league win in the process.  Kintzler was my pick to fill in for Zack Greinke to start the year, but he was not stretched out in spring training and Marco Estrada has done an admirable job instead.  Kintzler is on the bubble right now; with LaTroy Hawkins ready to come of the DL, his time with the team could be nearing an end.  It’s nice that he was able to give the Brewers a victory while he’s still here.  Regardless, I have a feeling we’ll be seeing him again before the year is over.

Offensively, the Brewers were pretty quiet at the plate.  Betancourt and Braun did most of the damage, each chipping in 2 RBI.  Gomez has been looking much better at the dish as of late, and contributed two hits and two runs.  Catcher Jonathan Lucroy went 3-for-5 with an RBI, and Fielder and McGehee each had a hit.

All said, not the cleanest of wins, but the Brewers are able to end a three-game losing streak  and take game one.  Lucky thing, too; the Brewers face perennial all-stars Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee in games two and three.

Starters Announced

As predicted, Yovani Gallardo gets the opening day start versus the Reds, followed by Wolf and Marcum.  Chris Narveson will pitch the home opener at Miller Park.  Brewers have yet to name a fifth starter.

I’ve caught some flack for dismissing Wily Peralta as a candidate for the number five spot.  I’m willing to consider that I underestimated him, but he hasn’t pitched above AA and his numbers there are hardly Strasburgian.  He’s not having the kind of spring I’m sure he wishes he’d be having, either, with a 6.00 ERA over 6 innings a 4 walks to 3 strikeouts. 

If Mark Rogers is ready, he’s the obvious choice, but I have my doubts.  If he’s not, I’ll stand by my Kintzler and DiFelice recommendations.

Disaster Strikes

Seems like there are only about six baseball players who manage to avoid the disabled list every year.  Zack Greinke isn’t one of them.

Of course, everyone knew it would happen eventually.  I was only half joking when I suggested the other week that the Brewers pick up Kevin Millwood now to fill in for whomever would get hurt down the road.  Fortunately, Greinke’s cracked and bruised ribs (injuries he received in a game of pickup basketball, of all things) aren’t expected to keep him out for more than four weeks.  But that’s long enough that Greinke will likely miss opening day.  So what do the Brewers do in the meantime?

Yovani Gallardo, Randy Wolf, Shaun Marcum and Chris Narveson are the pitchers still standing.  My guess is Roenicke decides to start Gallardo on opening day, followed by Marcum and Wolf in games two and three versus the Reds.  That would give us Narveson for the home opener.  Not exactly a name that inspires a ton of confidence in the fans.  But hey, if that’s how it shakes out, good for the kid.

So who becomes the #5?  Manny Parra, who has been maddeningly inconsistent in his past starts, is pretty much out of the question.  I get the sense he is now exclusively a bullpen arm, a role in which he was very effective last year.  Besides, he’s only pitched a third of an inning in Spring Training due to lower back tightness. 

Mark Rogers, one of the Brewers’ big-league-ready prospects, hasn’t pitched at all this spring because of shoulder tightness.  Shoulder injuries have sidelined him for a few years now, so you can expect the Brewers to take a cautious approach.  No help here either.

I’ve heard Wily Peralta’s name mentioned as a spot-start candidate, but I’m skeptical he’s the right guy.  Although he has logged more innings than many other candidates, those innings have been pretty unremarkable; in 42 innings of AA ball last year, Peralta pitched a respectable 3.61 ERA, but had almost as many strikeouts (29) as walks (24).  And he hasn’t really distinguished himself this spring, either, with a 4.50 ERA in four innings and 3 walks to 1 strikeout.

But I am intrigued by two other guys:  Brandon Kintzler and Mark DeFelice.

Kintzler was signed by the Brewers in 2009 and was immediately placed with AA Huntsville.  Since then, he’s had stints with AAA Nashville and appeared in 7 games for the Brewers last year.  Kintzler didn’t do so hot with the big league club (7.36 ERA in 7.1 innings with 9 K to 4 BB), but has some impressive minor league stats (2.95 ERA with a 5.50 K/BB ratio in 2 AA seasons; 2.36 ERA with a 3.50 K/BB ratio in 1 AAA season).  He’s performed admirably so far this spring, too, with a 1.59 ERA over 5.2 innings with 3 strikeouts and no walks.

Everyone probably remembers Mark DiFelice, who last pitched for the Brewers in 2009.  He lost the entire 2010 season to shoulder surgery and is currently on a minor league contract with a spring training invite.  DiFelice has made the most of it, going 3 innings with a 3.00 ERA with 5 K and 1 BB.  DiFelice was pretty decent with the Brewers in 2009, too, making 59 appearances for a 3.66 ERA and a 3.20 K/BB ratio. 

What’s clear is that someone who didn’t necessarily expect to pitch in the big leagues at the start of spring training might very well get an opportunity here.  Both Kinsler and DiFelice have shown promise and are likely making an impression on the Brewers’ new skipper, which could help their chances considerably.