MILWAUKEE -- Through the first two months of the season, everybody pointed to the Brewers' starting pitching staff as the main culprit of a rough start to the season. Now, Milwaukee's starters are the main reason for a hot stretch in June.
Including Wily Peralta's seven-inning scoreless outing against the Braves on Friday, Brewers starters have posted a 1.81 ERA and have held opponents to a .204 batting average over their last 12 games. The group has tossed nine quality starts in that span, something it rarely accomplished in a 6-22 May.
"I think we have really good pitching; we always have," Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. "We just didn't really show it early on. It's nice that we've kind of come together this past few weeks or so to show how good they are. Hopefully we continue to get better and improve."
The most impressive part of the staff's resurgence is that Marco Estrada and Hiram Burgos have been absent as they are rehabbing from injuries. The Brewers started left-handed reliever Tom Gorzelanny once during the stretch and right-handed reliever Alfredo Figaro twice.
On Saturday, long reliever Donovan Hand became the ninth Brewers pitcher to start a game.
"Any time you change this many starting pitchers and insert so many different guys, consistency usually isn't going to be there," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "But they've done a really nice job. Our starters are giving us chances to win almost every game.
"It's a better feeling in the dugout and during the games when you know you're not down every day."
The Brewers starting pitching staff had been among Major League Baseball's worst through April and May, but it righted the ship with a 10-9 start to June and hope to get Estrada and Burgos back by the end of the month.
"You've just got to count on guys to come up and step up. That's all you can do," Lucroy said. "The guys have done that for us, especially with Marco going down and Burgos going down. The other guys stepped up and got the job done. We're fortunate to have that kind of depth on our team."
K-Rod fills in as closer, notches save No. 300
MILWAUKEE -- It was a fitting finish to a save for which K-Rod has been waiting nearly two years. Francisco Rodriguez, the Brewers' setup man, was the closer for a day on Saturday and struck out Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman to seal a 2-0 Milwaukee win and grab his elusive 300th save.
After punching out Freeman and joining Bruce Sutter and Jason Isringhausen at No. 25 on the all-time saves list, Rodriguez blew a sigh of relief and pointed skyward with both hands, the celebration he made famous with the Angels a half decade ago.
"Long time; finally, it's here. I didn't want to let it slip away," said Rodriguez after his sixth save this season and ninth in two and a half years with the Brewers. "This is a huge relief for me. I've been through a lot of adversity. My whole career I've been able to bounce back, and I continue to do it."
Not long ago, many believed Rodriguez's career was finished. Last season with the Brewers, the right hander with a high leg kick struggled to a 2-7 record and 4.38 ERA in 78 appearances with Milwaukee. But the Brewers signed him to a Minor League contract on April 17, giving Rodriguez another shot at the milestone.
He worked his way back to the big leagues this season, and he earned a setup role while filling in for closer Jim Henderson during an injury stint and off-days, such as the one he had on Saturday. All the while, he was inching closer and closer to No. 300.
"The Brewers gave me the opportunity once again, and I didn't want to let them down," Rodriguez said. "You have no idea how happy, excited I am right now. A lot of people thought that I was done or that I was, you know, weak, whatever, or that I retired. People forgot that I was still 31 years old. Last year was a really, really bad year. I know what I'm capable to do."
Rodriguez has returned to prime form this season. He has not allowed a run in 15 of his 16 appearances this season and holds an 0.59 ERA.
He came in to Saturday's game to a nice ovation from the crowd, threw five warmup pitches and went to business as usual.
Jordan Schafer squibbed the second pitch he saw from Rodriguez toward Jean Segura at shortstop, who charged the chopper and made a highlight-reel bare-handed play to beat Schafer by a step at first base.
Andrelton Simmons then turned on an 0-2 Rodriguez changeup and launched it halfway up the left-field wall. Logan Schafer played it off a hop and got the ball in quickly to keep Simmons at first base. Simmons advanced to second base on a defensive indifference on the first pitch to Freeman, but it did not matter as Rodriguez sealed the game -- and his milestone -- right there.
Estrada to make rehab start with Class A Wisconsin
MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers announced Saturday that starting pitcher Marco Estrada will begin a rehab assignment on Sunday with Class A Wisconsin to complete his return from a strained left hamstring sustained in early June.
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said that hopefully Estrada's start against Cedar Rapids in Appleton will be the only rehab start the right-hander will need before returning to Milwaukee.
"We'll see how it goes. If he still feels it in his leg, then we'll maybe have to go another one," Roenicke said.
Estrada left his June 4 outing against the A's after feeling a pop in his hamstring on a fifth-inning pitch, and he was placed on the 15-day disabled list the next day. He was evaluated by team doctor William Raasch after throwing a light bullpen session before Friday's game.
The Timber Rattlers have an off-day Monday and begin a four-game road trip Tuesday, which is why Estrada will take the mound Sunday.
Roenicke hinted that Estrada could return during the Brewers' series in Pittsburgh the last weekend of June.
"The plan is that he goes out tomorrow and pitches," Roenicke said. "And then we do need a spot starter or a guy that at least goes back into the rotation, probably the 28th or the 29th."
Estrada was just finding his stride before his hamstring injury. The righty went 2-2 in May with a 5.40 ERA, despite allowing eight earned runs to the Cardinals in 3 1/3 innings to start the month.
"I'm pretty excited that I'll be going out soon to make a start somewhere," Estrada said on Friday. "So I just have that left and I'll get my butt back over here."
Schafer steps up to help fill Braun's shoes
MILWAUKEE -- Brewers manager Ron Roenicke knows what his team is missing while Ryan Braun is on the disabled list nursing a right hand injury that could keep the left fielder out through most of July.
But Roenicke also knows what his team has with Logan Schafer, who has manned left field in Braun's absence the last two weeks.
"I guess the thing that's bad about having to put [Schafer] in there is you know you're missing your No. 3 hitter," Roenicke said. "But if it wasn't for Ryan covering that three spot, I'd have no problem with Logan playing every day."
Schafer is hitting .233 (10-for-43) since pinch-hitting for Braun on June 9 when the Brewers' slugger left the game against the Phillies after aggravating the nerve between his thumb and index finger on his hand.
But Schafer did have back-to-back three-hit games against the Reds on June 14-15, and Roenicke said there's more to the left fielder's game than his offensive production.
"One thing about him, when he's not hitting, you know he's going to do all the other things well," Roenicke said. "So it makes it easy to put him in there even if he's not swinging the bat well."
Schafer was drafted by the Brewers in the third round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. He is in his first full season with the team after getting called up in September in 2011 and '12.
"It's great getting consistent at-bats; it's what I'm used to," Schafer said. "The first two months of the season, coming off the bench [was] difficult, but I enjoyed my role. It's a lot fun getting my preparation to go at 7:10 [p.m. CT for a typical night game] instead of maybe 9:30."
• Francisco Rodriguez is sitting on 299 career saves. With one more, he will be the 25th pitcher in Major League history with at least 300 saves.
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said Jim Henderson will be off against the Braves on Saturday, opening the door for Rodriguez if the chance comes.
• Third baseman Aramis Ramirez entered Saturday's game four hits shy of 2,000 for his career.
Kevin Massoth is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.