Crew matches club record by using 8 pitchers

Crew matches club record by using 8 pitchers

MILWAUKEE -- When Brewers starter Jeremy Jeffress emerged from the bullpen door instead of the dugout, you knew it was another "Johnny Wholestaff" kind of day.

For the third time in two weeks, the Brewers threw their bullpen at an opponent and won. Jeffress made his first career start after 263 relief appearances and seven more arms followed in a 10-2 win over the Marlins on Friday night at Miller Park, matching the franchise record for pitchers used in a nine-inning game.

Milwaukee adopted the strategy out of need, with Brent Suter still building his pitch count after a stint on the disabled list, Matt Garza struggling and losing his spot in the starting rotation and Jimmy Nelson lost for the rest of the season to a shoulder injury.

But are the Brewers on to something here?

Is this the future of baseball as bullpen specialization continues to take hold?

"It's difficult during the regular season," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "There's ways to make it a little closer to this, but not this far. You could see multiple three-inning pitchers like that, but shorter stints like tonight is not realistic outside of September, in my opinion."

This September, the Brewers have used "bullpen day" to great effect. Twice when Suter started on a limited pitch count and then behind Jeffress on Friday, Counsell has been able to piece together enough outs to win a game.

On Friday, after Jeffress surrendered two runs on four hits in two innings, Jacob Barnes, Wei-Chung Wang, Junior Guerra, Josh Hader, Jared Hughes, Anthony Swarzak and Aaron Wilkerson held Miami scoreless on two hits the rest of the way.

Wilkerson K's Anderson in debut

"It's tough [for hitters]. … You don't get a chance to fall into any pattern or plan," Swarzak said. "When you're switching them up like that, it's going to keep them off-balance, for sure."

It started with Jeffress, the former first-round Draft pick who had not started a game since 2011 in the Royals' Minor League system.

"I didn't even try to make it different," Jeffress said. "I just wanted to treat it like a regular outing. Counsell said it's nothing different, just act like you were coming out of the bullpen."

Instead of merely acting like it, Jeffress physically came out of the bullpen in the middle of the first inning. The Brewers are playing as the road team this weekend because the series was moved from Miami in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

"This tests your bullpen to the max, pitching guys in situations outside of what they normally pitch in," Jeffress said. "So to come in, give the starters some rest and take control of the game was big."

The win went to Hughes, but the most notable contribution may have been Hader's. He faced the first six hitters in Miami's lineup and retired them all, striking out five in two perfect frames in the fifth and sixth.

Hader K's Yelich, side in 5th

Hader's mindset is particularly suited for bullpen day.

"I just like to pitch, man," Hader said. "Whenever I get a chance to go in there and help the team win, that's what I like to do."

The Brewers have another "TBA" on their list of probable starting pitchers on Wednesday, and bullpen day is one possibility. But Counsell may need innings from a more traditional starter that day, since Friday started a stretch of 10 games in as many days.

"I think they've done a great job when we've put them in those situations," Counsell said, "but when you're playing every night, it might be a little different."

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.