Tied at four apiece in the seventh inning, Wednesday afternoon’s series finale against the Houston Astros slipped into what has been an all-too-familiar script this month: Bullpen Struggles.
Jose Veras and Mike McClendon combined to surrender six hits and three runs. Those late runs proved too difficult to overcome for the home team, and the Brewers dropped yet another series finale in 2012. The late-inning struggles once again highlighted the ineffectiveness of the bullpen, causing many to denounce the bullpen as a potential strength and to deem it a full-fledged liability.
Problems certainly exist within the relief corps. Following Wednesday’s game against the Astros, they had combined for a 4.79 ERA in 56.1 innings. Only the Tampa Bay Rays (7.49 ERA) and Boston Red Sox (7.55 ERA) have worse earned run averages from their bullpens at this point in the season. Much of the issue for the Brewers’ bullpen is the walk rate.
Take a look at the following walk rates per nine innings:
|Player||2012 BB/9||Career BB/9|
Only Manny Parra has outperformed his career walk rate thus far, though he has experienced different issues on the mound. He has allowed fourteen hits in just nine innings.
As a reliever, limiting base runners is obviously key. The Brewers bullpen, however, has quite often been handing out bases for free. That does nothing but place undue pressure on the pitcher and place them in a precarious position for the remainder of the inning. Walking batters is also an extremely quick way to get caught in multi-run debacles.
They may be struggling three weeks into the season, but it is too early to brand the Brewers’ bullpen with the seal of disproval, however. A sample of nineteen games is hardly enough information from which to draw a concrete conclusion. Furthermore, historical numbers outlined above suggest the team’s relievers will bounce back and enjoy significant success as the season continues. One or two relievers may post career high walk rates, but it seems dubious that the entire bullpen suddenly implodes and every single one of them posts career-worst walk rates.
The only real concern that Brewers fans should have regarding their bullpen is Jose Veras. The overall stuff on the mound impresses. His 6-foot-6, 240-pound frame looms large and imposing. His command, however, cannot remain consistent from outing to outing. Ron Roenicke calls upon Veras as the primary seventh inning reliever, but whether the “good” Jose Veras or the “bad” Jose Veras trots to the mound at any given moment is a complete crapshoot.
Over the past two years, Veras has compiled ERAs of 3.75 and 3.80, respectively, so his uneven performances appear to even out over the course of a long season. Still, the inconsistency remains maddening. Earlier this month, he went four-consecutive outings in which he struck out six batters in only four innings. His past two outings, though, have seen him surrender four runs in two innings, yet still strike out three batters.
Outside of Veras, however, we can remain confident that the bullpen will be fine. John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez will be fine. Axford struggled to begin the 2011 season and settled in to have one of the better relief seasons in Brewers history, while K-Rod tends to have a poor month or two each season and is lights-out the remainder of the year. Kameron Loe is what he is at this point in his career, even if the only two strikeouts in 7.2 innings is a bit concerning. Tim Dillard still should not face left-handed batters. Finally, Mike McClendon should serve as nothing more than the long-relief, mop-up option until someone like Brandon Kintzler returns from the DL or Wily Peralta gets a permanent promotion to the big leagues later this summer.
A dark-horse option for the bullpen this summer is right-hander Jim Henderson, who currently sits in Triple-A Nashville. He has yet to surrender an earned run this season and has struck out thirteen batters in just ten innings to begin the year. At 6-foot-5, he possesses the big frame the Brewers organization values in a pitcher, and he also has seen his velocity spike over the past two seasons. As this article stated last year, he now throws in the mid-90s and can touch a tick or two higher at times, though he is still learning to command his new-found stuff.
Just a name to watch.