Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Brewers Lose Three of Three to Phillies; K-Rod Implodes Again

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The 2012 Milwaukee Brewers are having a dreadful year.  Early on, injuries derailed the team; now, it’s the bullpen, the starting pitching, the lack of hitting, or again, the bullpen that tends to make the Brewers lose games.  So what’s the culprit with regards to these latest three losses to the Philadelphia Phillies?  I’ll give you one word: pitching.

You know your season is going bad when your team can’t even win one game out of three against a team with a losing record.  This is where the Brewers are right now; they lost all three against the Phillies by the score of 7-6 (today’s loss being in ten innings; the other two were regulation nine inning games).  These three losses show that the 2012 Brewers do not have what it takes to be a contending ball club.

And that’s sad, because as I said earlier this week, there are still some very good players on this team.  Corey Hart.  Ryan Braun.  Yovani Gallardo.  John Axford.  Jonathan Lucroy, once he comes back from his rehab stint in the minors.  And Aramis Ramirez, after a horrible start, has been playing much better lately.

After that, we start getting into good players (all pitchers) who won’t be with the team through 2013 — Zack Greinke, soon to be traded to a team near you.  Shaun Marcum’s contract is up at the end of the year.  Randy Wolf’s been treated so shabbily by the Brewers bullpen that there’s probably no amount of money that could possibly induce him to come back to the Brewers.

And then, we start to get to players who, while good at something, are bad at something else.  For example, Norichika Aoki hits well, but his defense is suspect, and he makes way too many mental errors.  Carlos Gomez is electric on the basepaths, has a bit of power, and plays good defense when his head’s in the game, but has a poor OBP and his average is never going to be above .240 unless he starts learning how to take a walk.  Nyjer Morgan, while he can still be a sparkplug and plays good defense, just hasn’t hit very well this season.

And then, of course, there’s Rickie Weeks’s lost season, which is in a class all by itself.  Weeks has tons of potential and should have a much higher batting average than .190 (his average at the start of Wednesday afternoon’s game).  Weeks has been a liability at the plate, striking out way too much, and giving Hart almost no help as Weeks, in general, bats right behind Hart. 

And what on Earth can be said about Francisco Rodriguez (K-Rod), who blew yet another save today — his sixth blown save in nine chances — snuffing out the Brewers chance to salvage one game from the Phillies by giving up two runs in the bottom of the tenth inning?  (While I’m sure K-Rod isn’t trying to blow saves, he just doesn’t seem to have it right now.)

But it’s not just K-Rod who’s fallen apart lately.  In each of the last three games, someone — or many someones — in the Brewers bullpen didn’t have it.  This happens sometimes to every team, but it’s been more prominent with the 2012 Brewers because the bullpen was expected to be a source of strength, not a weakness.

And what’s sad today is the fact that three relief pitchers did have it after starter Marco Estrada had a forgettable day (giving up 5 runs, all earned, in four innings of work) — John Axford pitched two scoreless innings.  Livan Hernandez, the “forgotten man” in the bullpen, pitched two scoreless also.  And rookie Tyler Thornburg did his job, pitching one inning of scoreless relief.  Those three pitchers did their jobs, which allowed the Brewers to come back from a 5-1 early deficit and take the lead in the top of the tenth, 6-5.

But then came K-Rod.  And there went the Brewers chances.

Look.  While I’m frustrated with most of the Brewers relievers right now (excepting Axford, Hernandez, and Thornburg), I think part of their problem is that they’re tired.  I am also starting to wonder as to why Brewers manager Ron Roenicke would bring in Manny Parra twice in two games (games 1 and 2 against the Phillies), when in both games Parra managed to load the bases due to walks; I wonder why Roenicke insisted on bringing in K-Rod again, when Axford’s been great in the set-up role since he was put into it about a week ago and K-Rod’s been terrible as a closer; I wonder if a few of these guys just need a different pitching coach, and/or a change of scenery, in order to get things straightened back out again.

So, what would I do differently with these players than Roenicke and his staff? 

First, I’d try to see if any of the pitchers — the relief pitchers in particular —  need to go to grief counseling due to the death of their friend (the long-time bullpen assistant).  Perhaps going and talking about this would be beneficial — and if it’s not been done already out of humanitarian and compassionate reasons, it should be done for a performance-based one.

Second, I’d give guys like Parra and Loe a physical.  Parra has had many back issues in the past, and if he’s having even minor back trouble now, that might be just enough to cause him major trouble throwing the ball, which would explain why he can’t seem to throw strikes.  And Loe was so good in both 2009 and 2010 that I find it hard to believe that he’d have as much trouble as he’s had lately getting his sinker to work without some sort of nagging injury.

Mind you, if injuries were found, no matter how minor, I’d have the player (or players) in question go on the disabled list for 15 days in order to get some rest. 

And for that matter, I’d bring in someone to look at everyone’s pitching mechanics, but most especially to look at K-Rod’s.  While he had 18 holds in the set-up role, by far the most among the Brewers pitchers, K-Rod hasn’t looked quite right all year long.  This might have something to do with why he’s not been effective — or even acceptable — as a closer despite his past success.

Bringing in a specialist isn’t a bad thing, because even the best pitching coach can miss things over time, especially if there have been gradual changes.  And if nothing’s found, great!  (But I’m betting there’s something there to be found — if not with K-Rod, perhaps with Loe, Parra, or one of the others.)

Third, I’d definitely bring in the best possible medical specialists to figure out why Marcum is not improving.  He wasn’t supposed to be on the DL this long, so what’s going on there?

Fourth, I’d have a heart-to-heart with Randy Wolf.  I’d tell Wolf that I know he’s done a good job for the Brewers — really, he has, as he should have at least seven and as many as eleven wins right now had the bullpen just done its job (his ERA is misleading, as I’ve said before).  And I’d thank him for bearing up under an extremely tough set of circumstances; Wolf’s a very good pitcher who’s done his best, and has deserved a whole lot better than what he’s had thus far in 2012.

Fifth, I’d sit down with Rickie Weeks and ask him if he thinks anyone or anything could help him right now.  (Granted, he did get four hits today.  But Weeks’s defense also hasn’t been up to par; surely there’s someone out there who could give Weeks some pointers?)  Weeks has the lowest batting average of any everyday player in the major leagues, yet he has tons of talent.  I’d get to the bottom of whatever is going on with him, whether it’s with a sports psychologist, needing a new mentor (Willie Randolph helped Weeks greatly when he was here a few years ago), or whatever it is, in order to help him succeed again at the major league level.

Finally, I’d sit down with Hart, Braun, Lucroy, Gallardo, Ramirez, and Axford.  I’d tell these men that I greatly appreciate what they’ve done.  That while they’ve all had ups and downs — Braun’s had nagging injuries, Ramirez’s first month-and-a-half was Godawful, Hart’s had to re-learn how to play first base at the major league level after a several-year absence, Lucroy’s been on the DL, Gallardo’s been good but not lights-out, and of course Axford getting removed from the closer’s role only to shine as a set-up man — they are still valuable members of the Brewers.  And that the Brewers will do whatever it takes to build a team around them; assure them that they aren’t going anywhere, and that owner Mark Attanasio is committed to putting a winning team on the field in 2013.

But since I don’t have that power and am not a member of the Brewers coaching staff, all I can do boils down to two things: hope for the best.  And wait until next year.

———–

Note: Last evening, I was so frustrated with Parra walking the bases loaded twice in two days that I actually said I thought he should be designated for assignment (DFA’d) if he wasn’t injured in some way.  I still think Parra would be better off with another team, where expectations might not be so high — he pitched a perfect game in the minors for the Brewers organization, which is why the expectations have been up there — but after a day to think about it, I’d rather have someone from outside the team give him a physical (if he’ll stand for it) and then have him visit a specialist in pitching mechanics to see if there’s anything that can be done.

Parra, overall, hasn’t been the problem this year.  But walking the bases loaded two days straight was symptomatic of how snakebit the Brewers pitching staff seems to be this year.  That’s why I’d do everything in my power, were I somehow transported to become a member of the Brewers coaching staff for even one day, to see if Parra’s back and knees were OK (I trust Parra to know if his arm’s OK, or if something major is wrong, but a very small problem might not be noticeable), and to check his mechanics.

I like Parra very much as a pitcher.  But my hunch is that he’ll find himself successful in a different team’s uniform, much in the same way former Brewer pitcher Jorge de la Rosa found success in Colorado.

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Written by Barb Caffrey

July 25, 2012 at 8:24 pm

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