Bullpen has been bright spot for Crew
Heading into pivotal Game 3, club feels confident in relievers
MILWAUKEE -- As painful as it was for the Brewers to lose both games at Philadelphia to open the National League Division Series, matters could have been even worse if not for standout performances by their bullpen.
Unsung efforts were turned in by the relievers, who were asked to work at least four innings in both games. Asked to pick up the slack, the Milwaukee relievers posted 8 1/3 scoreless innings, scattering four hits while walking four and striking out eight. These performances bode well for Saturday's Game 3 at Miller Park.
"They've really thrown the ball well for two weeks," manager Dale Sveum said. "Our bullpen is why we're here, really. They kept us in all those games that we were able to hit the walk-off home runs. For the most part, they've gotten some huge outs."
In the final week of the season, the Brewers celebrated two wins on walk-off home runs. Prince Fielder connected on a two-run shot in the ninth inning on Sept. 23 to beat the Pirates, 7-5. Two nights later, also against Pittsburgh, Ryan Braun belted a grand slam to end a 5-1 game in 10 innings.
Because of the shutdown innings turned in by the bullpen, the Brewers -- despite not playing particularly well -- were in both NLDS losses at Citizens Bank Park.
In the series opener on Wednesday, Milwaukee starter Yovani Gallardo exited after four innings and 75 pitches. The 22-year-old right-hander yielded three unearned runs and exited trailing by three runs.
Mitch Stetter, Carlos Villanueva, Manny Parra and Guillermo Mota combined to keep the Phillies off the board in a 3-1 loss.
|Milwaukee's relief corps ranked fourth in the National League in ERA in 2008.|
|1. Phillies: 3.19 ERA, 483 innings|
|2. Dodgers: 3.33 ERA, 519 2/3 innings|
|3. Reds: 3.81 ERA, 525 innings|
|4. Brewers: 3.83 ERA, 472 1/3 innings|
|5. Astros: 4.02 ERA, 517 innings|
"Even the last two ballgames, they've kept us in the ballgame to give us a chance off [Phillies closer Brad] Lidge in the last inning of both games," Sveum said. "They've done a great job. The matchups have worked out. But the fact of the matter is they've gone out and got those outs in those matchups."
In Game 2 on Thursday night, a 5-2 loss, CC Sabathia was lifted after 3 2/3 innings and 98 pitches. With the bases loaded in the fourth inning, Stetter struck out Ryan Howard to prevent any further damage.
McClung, Eric Gagne and Salomon Torres combined to again keep the Phillies from adding on runs.
"For me as a starter, the main thing is to go as deep as I can," Gallardo said. "The game that I threw in Philadelphia, the four innings, they came in behind me and didn't allow a run. They've been doing that the whole year. They've been doing a great job.
"They've been very good. We feel very confident because we have a great bullpen. Those guys have been doing a great job the whole year."
In the regular season, the Brewers' bullpen had the fourth-best ERA (3.83) in the National League. Down the stretch, they were relied upon more heavily and repeatedly came through, especially in the final week.
In the final week, when the Brewers won six of seven to win the Wild Card, the bullpen gave up six runs in 27 2/3 innings (1.95 ERA).
"We're a fun group out there," Gagne said. "We're trying to keep our team in the ballgame. Sometimes the starters don't go six, seven, eight innings. That's our role, to pick up the slack.
"Every time you throw up zeros, it always helps. You try to go out there and do your job. One inning can turn the whole thing around. We know the game. We know the rhythm can change real quick."
The bullpen offers a variety of different looks to opposing hitters.
Stetter and Brian Shouse are left-handed specialists. Parra, who has been a starter, is a hard-throwing lefty who is being used in long relief. McClung is a power-arm right-hander who can start, throw long relief or pitch in setup roles late in the game.
"I really feel like we've got a bend-but-don't-break attitude in the bullpen," McClung said. "We may let a runner on, or whatever. But we really are getting the outs without giving up the runs."
Torres has converted 28 or 35 save opportunities. And Gagne had 10 saves in 17 tries before the closer role switched.
"We've glued together real well, and I think we feed off each other," Gagne said. "[The bullpen throws] strikes and [doesn't] give up hits. I've been trying to do the same thing I've been doing all season. Focus on one pitch at a time, get ahead and make them chase our pitches."
Villanueva has an effective changeup, and Mota has shown improvement late in the season.
"Everybody out there is different in personality, but definitely different in styles of pitching," McClung said. "From one pitcher to the next, it's a different look."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.