Missed opportunities cost Milwaukee

Missed opportunities cost Milwaukee

ATLANTA -- Chicks may dig the long ball, but managers in pennant races dig base hits with runners in scoring position. That meant Brewers skipper Ned Yost was not digging it Thursday night.

Rickie Weeks hit a third-inning home run that gave the Brewers 216 long balls this season, extending their Major League lead and tying a franchise record set in 1982. But Brewers hitters otherwise were quiet, going 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and leaving nine men on base on the way to a 3-1 loss to the Braves at Turner Field.

"I left a small army out there," said catcher Damian Miller, who accounted for two of Milwaukee's six strikeouts with runners on second or third base.

The Brewers are riding a two-game losing streak after rattling off four straight victories.

On a night of many missed opportunities, it was a big-picture whiff for the Brewers, who entered the day tied with the National League Central-leading Cubs in the loss column. Instead, the Brewers fell a game back in the loss column and 1 1/2 games behind the idle division leaders in the standings. The Brewers have 10 games left on the regular-season schedule, while the Cubs have nine.

It does not get any easier. After facing former Brewer Jeff Bennett (1-0), who had not pitched in the Majors since a relief stint for Milwaukee in October 2004, the Brewers will draw Tim Hudson on Friday and John Smoltz on Saturday. Those Braves right-handers have 30 wins between them.

"Every day is tough," Yost said. "How tough is the task with Hudson and Smoltz? How tough was the task with Bennett? Every day is tough. There's noting easy about anything we're going to do from here on out."

In his return from Tommy John elbow surgery, Bennett delivered a gem, holding Milwaukee to six hits and one run in 5 2/3 innings. He walked one, struck out eight and showed a knack for getting out of jams.

"It wasn't a revenge type of thing for that team," said Bennett, a former Brewers Rule 5 Draft pick who pitched 60 relief appearances in 2004. "It was more of looking over there and seeing a lot of the guys that I'm friends with, because I'm friends with a lot of guys on that team. It was just more fun than anything."

It was not fun for the current Brewers to face him.

"We really didn't know what to expect, because nobody had seen him pitch this year," Miller said. "He was tough -- good angle on his fastball. He mixed it up. He was aggressive with his fastball, and to me, he looked smoother than in '05 in Spring Training. The ball was jumping out of his hand."

Milwaukee had its chances. Bennett struck out Prince Fielder and Corey Hart with runners at first and second base in the first inning, then he whiffed Weeks and Joe Dillon with a runner at second base in the fifth.

"I feel confident in our team, and I feel that if we go out and play our game, good things will happen. We [need] to focus on one game at a time."
-- Jeff Suppan

Miller had a particularly tough night, striking out against Bennett after a two-out Geoff Jenkins double in the fourth inning, then against reliever Manny Acosta with runners at first and third and two outs in the sixth.

"It's tough when you're [playing] once a week and you put extra pressure on yourself," said Miller, who has been catching Thursday starter Jeff Suppan of late. "Especially in the situation we're at, you want to help the team whenever you get a chance to play. ... I had my chance, and I wanted to make the most of it. That's just my nature."

At least someone made contact in a clutch at-bat. Ryan Braun scored that minor victory in the seventh inning, after Weeks reached third on a walk, a stolen base and a throwing error. But Braun grounded into an easy fielder's choice.

Yost insisted his team had, "nothing much going on offensively tonight -- one or two chances."

The misses spoiled a winnable start by Suppan (10-12), who was charged with three runs on seven hits in six innings. The first of those runs should not have scored at all, but Dillon, making his first Major League start in right field, stumbled while chasing a two-out fly ball in the first inning.

Yost surmised that Dillon may have expected the second baseman, Weeks, to come back to make the play. Dillon brushed aside any explanation.

"Different things happen, but that play has got to be made," Dillon said. "I got a good read off the bat on it, and I overran it. No excuses. That ball has to be caught every time."

Chipper Jones gave the Braves some insurance when he delivered a sharply hit two-run single in the second inning after Suppan loaded the bases with a full-count walk to Edgar Renteria. Suppan's 1-2 pitch to Jones was not necessarily a poor one -- a fastball that was supposed to be low and away but was a bit up -- and Jones lined it to the right-center-field gap. Jones, who went 3-for-4 Thursday, is 8-for-14 on the Braves' homestand.

"It was a typical 'Soup' game," Miller said. "He gave his team a chance to win. We just couldn't help him out."

With 10 games to play, how does Suppan view Milwaukee's chances?

"I view it as we have to win tomorrow's game," he said. "I feel confident in our team, and I feel that if we go out and play our game, good things will happen. We [need] to focus on one game at a time."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.