Starters can give bullpen corps a lift

Starters can give bullpen corps a lift

CLEVELAND -- Brewers manager Ken Macha isn't sure what has infected his pitching rotation, but he does know that the string of short starts cannot continue.

"We can't sustain this for very much longer," Macha said before Wednesday's series finale against the Indians. "Our starting pitching is going to have to get us deeper in the game, or by July and August our bullpen is going to be dragging."

Jeff Suppan did his part in Cleveland on Wednesday with his second consecutive quality start, and fellow right-hander Braden Looper will try to keep it going on Friday, when the Brewers return from an off-day to continue their Interleague road trip in the opener of a three-game series in Detroit.

Milwaukee's bullpen arms might benefit most from the day off because they have carried a heavy burden. When all five Brewers starters strung together so-called quality starts -- defined as an outing in which the starter works at least six innings and is charged with three or fewer earned runs -- from May 15-19, the Brewers led the Majors in that category, with 25 quality starts in 39 games.

The starters were 17-10 with a 3.97 ERA at that point of the season, and the team had opened its widest division lead of the year -- three games in the National League Central.

In the 27 games since, the pitchers have produced just seven quality starts while posting a 6.19 ERA. One of the starters -- Manny Parra, the only left-hander in the group -- has since been sent to Triple-A Nashville to get straightened out.

"We're not pounding the strike zone early in the count like we were," pitching coach Bill Castro said. "We're throwing a lot of pitches, and we're getting behind in the count a lot."

Castro doesn't think there's a common thread running through his staff's struggles.

"It's like very early in the season when we were walking all of those guys, and then -- boom -- we went the other way," Castro said. "We have to get back to getting ahead of the hitters. The starting pitchers need to go a little deeper into the game so we don't need those guys in the bullpen so much."

Could a collective case of "dead arm" be behind the drop in production? The Brewers are, after all, more than 40 percent through the regular season.

Macha doesn't think so.

"If that's the case, I've never been in a place where that happens across the board," Macha said.

The starters shouldn't be tired, because they have all received extra rest through the early portion of the season. Instead of skipping one starter to keep the other four on a regular schedule, Macha simply bumped all five pitchers back a day when the team had a day off.

Macha has temporarily suspended that practice while Parra works out his kinks in the Minors and the Brewers operate with only four starters. They won't need a fifth again until June 27, and Macha intends to return to his policy of extra rest when that arm joins the rotation.

Looper has been burned by a big inning in two of his last three starts. On June 3 in Florida, the Brewers spotted him a 9-1 lead in the top of the fifth inning, but Looper couldn't record the final three outs he needed to qualify for the win (though the team held on). Eleven days later against the White Sox, he surrendered a third-inning home run to Chicago pitcher Mark Buehrle in the third inning, then surrendered three more runs in a fourth inning that included a two-run double for Sox infielder Gordan Beckham, who entered the game with an .097 batting average.

"It's like I lost it for an inning and a half, and that's what I'm mad about," Looper said afterward.

Looper wasn't with the Brewers when they made their last trip to Detroit in 2007. They were on the wrong end of Justin Verlander's no-hitter in the series opener, then won the final two games of the series and went on a tear.

Pitching matchup
MIL: RHP Braden Looper (5-3, 4.62 ERA)
This was supposed to be Parra's turn in the rotation, but two off-days in the span of a week eliminated the need for a fifth starter until June 28 and allowed the Brewers to send the struggling Parra to the Minor Leagues. That means Looper will be working on regular rest against the Tigers. He has faced them eight times, including two starts, and is 3-1 despite a 6.89 ERA.

DET: RHP Armando Galarraga (3-7, 5.56 ERA)
Galarraga is 0-7 in his previous nine starts since going 3-0 in April, and after giving up four runs on eight hits in two-plus innings Saturday at Pittsburgh, he has a confidence problem. His problems have centered on the early innings, including the four-run second inning the Pirates put up against him. His location is off from last year, but his aggressiveness seems to have suffered the most.

Tidbits
Dave Bush, 0-3 with an 8.64 ERA over his past four starts, threw his usual between-starts side session on Wednesday and began working on mechanical fixes to get his arm and his body back in sync. He also sported a new look -- gone is the "bushy" (sorry, too easy) beard that he had worn since the offseason. "I'm going for the '10 years younger' look," Bush joked. ... Infielder Casey McGehee would rather not talk about his badly bruised left ankle or his sore right knee, but he was out of the lineup on Wednesday. Macha decided to remove McGehee on Tuesday night when he noticed him limping after a flyout, but hoped to have him back on Friday in Detroit. "He's banged up pretty good, " Macha said. ... Right-hander Mike Jones, the injury-plagued former first-round Draft pick and onetime top Brewers pitching prospect, was placed on the seven-day disabled list at Double-A Huntsville over the weekend. But he was battling an illness, not an arm problem, according to assistant general manager Gord Ash.

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Up next
• Saturday: Brewers (Dave Bush, 3-3, 5.31) at Tigers (TBD), 3:05 p.m. CT
• Sunday: Brewers (Yovani Gallardo, 7-3, 2.93) at Tigers (Justin Verlander, 7-3, 3.39), 12:05 p.m. CT
• Monday: Off-day

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