"Doug and I have spoken, but there are a lot of things that go into what he's doing," Brewers manager Ken Macha said. "He knows what he's doing. We're going to try to make it work as best we can."
Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee slugged a three-run home run off McClung (3-2) in the first inning and a grand slam after reliever Chris Smith relieved McClung in the fourth to set a career high with seven RBIs, and Chicago starter Ryan Dempster (5-5) notched his 10th career win against Milwaukee in the opener of a four-game series.
Jake Fox and Geovany Soto added solo home runs off McClung, who struggled in his second start since moving from the bullpen to the rotation. Including Thursday, when he surrendered seven runs on seven hits in 3 1/3 innings and worked to three-ball counts against seven of the 14 men he faced, McClung has surrendered 10 runs and 13 hits in 7 1/3 innings.
McClung posted a 3.24 ERA in 28 relief appearances while he waited for the opportunity to start. That long wait made Thursday's outing all the more "disheartening."
"It is disappointing on my end to know I've been given an opportunity to show what I can do," said McClung, who hinted that he was also disappointed by plate umpire James Hoye's strike zone. "Last year, I think I showed what I could do. It's disheartening. I know I'm better than the statistics say the last couple of times. I work very hard at what I do, and when you work hard at what you do, and you put your heart and soul into it, and you get results that aren't desirable, it's kind of disappointing.
"The only thing I know to do go back out there and continue to work hard. I don't give up. I don't say die. I know I'm a good pitcher, and I know I can start. If I continue to get my turn, which as far as I know, I will, I'm going to turn this thing around very quickly."
Macha, though, would not commit to giving McClung another start.
"We have an off-day Monday, so we're going to need a pitcher for [July 11]," said Macha, who otherwise is set with Jeff Suppan, Braden Looper, Mike Burns and Yovani Gallardo. That meant he will skip McClung's next start, which could have come as early as Wednesday, and use Suppan on regular rest instead.
"It all starts with the starter, and Seth didn't do a very good job today," Macha said.
A 39-pitch first inning set the tone Thursday for a short outing. McClung walked Cubs leadoff man Sam Fuld, and Ryan Theriot singled before Lee hammered a first-pitch fastball for a 3-0 lead. McClung finally recorded his first out on his 20th pitch when he struck out slumping slugger Milton Bradley.
Fox followed with a 10-pitch at-bat that ended with a home run, again on a McClung fastball. Soto hit another fastball leading off the fourth for his eighth homer and a 5-2 Chicago lead that would extend to 9-2 before the inning was over with Lee's grand slam.
Smith got into trouble by falling behind Lee.
"Bases loaded, 3-and-1, that's about the best hitting situation you can be in," Lee said. "He has to throw a strike, he can't walk you there. You're trying to be aggressive."
The Brewers went down swinging. Mike Cameron hit a two-run home run off Dempster in the second inning to pull the Brewers back to within 4-2, and Prince Fielder hit a towering solo shot leading off the sixth, the slugger's team-best 21st homer this season.
Ryan Braun added an RBI single in the seventh inning, and Jason Kendall drove in another run with a single in the eighth, but the Brewers couldn't climb all the way back. Dempster took the win after allowing four runs in 6 2/3 innings.
Falling into an early hole was tough, "especially with Dempster," Cameron said.
"I think he's the kind of guy that thrives in those situations," Cameron said. "It's just tough. The Cubs are playing pretty well, so their confidence level is up. We kept fighting."
It wasn't enough.
"After getting shut out [in a 1-0 loss to the Mets on Wednesday], I was pleased with the offense," Macha said. "The offense could have given us a chance to win. The starting pitching didn't."
McClung was at 85 pitches in the fourth inning when Macha turned to Smith with two runners on base, and Smith walked Theriot to load the bases for Lee's second grand slam this season and the 10th of his career.
Two of the runs were charged to Smith, but he otherwise kept the Cubs off the scoreboard over 2 2/3 innings. Chris Narveson and Mark DiFelice added scoreless innings.
"The bullpen actually pitched pretty good," Macha said.
Whether McClung rejoins that group or remains in the rotation could depend on Melvin's work in the trade market.
"I have confidence in what he's doing," Macha said.