Suppan set for pressure situation
Veteran right-hander to start Game 4 at Miller Park
MILWAUKEE -- Big games have brought out the best in Jeff Suppan in the past.
The Brewers are hopeful the 33-year-old right-hander can rekindle some postseason magic on Sunday in Game 4 of their National League Division Series with the Phillies at Miller Park.
Given new life after fending off elimination on Saturday night with a 4-1 win in Game 3, the Brewers now are in position to even the best-of-five series at an energized Miller Park, which promises to once again be rocking on Sunday.
With the Cardinals in 2006, Suppan established himself as a big-game pitcher when in Game 7 of the NLCS against the Mets at Shea Stadium, the veteran right-hander gave up one run in seven innings. The Cardinals emerged victorious on that night, and they went on to win the World Series.
If playoff experience accounts for anything, the fact Suppan will be on the mound on Sunday will be a factor.
"My approach is the same, but I do have experience in pitching in games like these," Suppan said.
In all, Suppan has made nine playoff starts, including two in the World Series.
"The guy has pitched in big games and done well in a lot of big games," Milwaukee manager Dale Sveum said. "When I was with the Red Sox, he pitched a heck of a game against us in Game 3. I believe it was in St. Louis. He shut down a real powerful hitting lineup in Boston."
In 2004, the Cardinals were swept in four games by the Red Sox in the World Series. Suppan gave up four runs in 4 2/3 innings and was tagged with the loss in that game.
The right-hander made one start in the 2006 World Series, and he was not involved in the decision against the Tigers. He gave up three runs in six innings.
GAME 4: JUST THE FACTS
|Phillies starter: RHP Joe Blanton|
|2008: 9-12, 4.69 ERA (4-0, 4.20 ERA with Phillies; 5-12, 4.96 with A's)|
|2008 on the road: 5-3, 5.37 ERA (2-0, 4.96 ERA with Phillies, 3-3, 5.73 with A's)|
|2008 vs. Brewers: 0-0, 3.86 ERA|
|Career vs. Brewers: 0-0, 3.86 ERA|
|Career postseason: 0-0, -.-- ERA|
|Brewers starter: RHP Jeff Suppan|
|2008: 10-10, 4.96 ERA|
|2008 at home: 3-3, 4.36 ERA|
|2008 vs. Phillies: 0-1, 5.91 ERA|
|Career vs. Phillies: 3-6, 6.20 ERA|
|Career postseason: 3-3, 3.00 ERA|
|Phillies lead series, 2-1. The team that has won Game 1 of an NLDS is 23-3 in those series. On Saturday night, the Brewers became the fourth of 17 teams down 0-2 in the NLDS to win Game 3 and prolong the series.|
|Game 3: Brewers 4, Phillies 1|
|Did You Know? In 1982, when the Brewers came back from 0-2 in the ALCS to win three straight against the Angels and reach the World Series, the final three games were all played at Milwaukee's County Stadium. The format then was that the team with the better record played two on the road and then three straight at home. Now the format is 2-2-1.|
"He knows what to do, and he pitches very well when he gets extra rest," Sveum said. "So I have all the confidence in the world with him. He shut down a pretty good Cubs lineup about a week ago at this time. So he's got to have a little confidence going into the game."
A knack of coming up big when it matters most certainly is what Suppan has going for him. What's a concern is the fact he's struggled for the most part in September.
In the regular season, the Oklahoma native finished with a 10-10 record and 4.96 ERA. He threw 177 2/3 innings, but his strikeouts-to-walks ratio was an issue. He fanned 90 while allowing 67 free passes.
September was especially troublesome. In five starts, he was 0-3 with an 8.44 ERA, giving up 20 earned runs in 21 1/3 innings.
The most encouraging aspect of September was his final start of the season, a win at Wrigley Field against the Cubs on Sept. 26. In five innings, he yielded one run on eight hits while striking out five and walking one.
For Suppan to be effective, the right-hander must improve his fastball command. Since his fastball typically tops out at 89 mph, with an occasional 90, pitching location is pivotal.
"It's a process," he said of being precise with a fastball. "Sometimes when you're in games, you should be able to make adjustments on your fastball, or any pitch.
"September was a month where I thought I was making adjustments, but the result was the same on my fastball. So I worked on that in between starts, and I feel I've made the necessary adjustments on my fastball."
"That is definitely a big part of my game, execution of my fastball, No. 1, and then my other pitches."
By securing their first win of the series, the Brewers have some momentum, while the Phillies are struggling with the fact they scored just once on Saturday. In the three games, the Phillies have nine runs, but they've scored in just three of the 25 innings they've batted.
"We've got to score runs," Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel said. "We've supposed to hit, and when we don't, yeah, I'm concerned about it. But I don't know what you can do right now, especially this time of year, in the playoffs and stuff.
"Actually, that's what the playoffs is all about. You don't have time to go into slumps or go bad or anything. You've got to be playing good. In order for us to go to the World Series, we've got to hit."
Suppan certainly has a familiarity with the Phillies. The last taste he had of facing them, however, wasn't a very enjoyable one.
On Sept. 14 at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies tagged Suppan for six runs on eight hits in 3 2/3 innings. Command was an issue that day, as he walked four and struck out one.
Rough days like that are easy to forget.
"I think my approach has always been the same as far as that goes," Suppan said of facing a team after a difficult start. "Emotionally, I forget it. But I can never go back. When I'm 50 years old, I can't go back when I threw against the Phillies in Philadelphia. I can't change the numbers or the start or anything like that.
"But that's part of my routine and how I process different things. I would use that for this next start, though, [and] all my starts against the Phillies."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.