Bullpen spoils Parra's strong start

Bullpen spoils Parra's strong start

MILWAUKEE -- Manny Parra was a "whipped puppy" when the Brewers demoted him to the Minor Leagues three weeks ago, to borrow his manager's metaphor. After a heartbreaking no-decision on Thursday, you couldn't have blamed him for being a mad dog.

Parra delivered seven scoreless innings in an inspired return from the Minor Leagues, but three Brewers relievers surrendered five runs in the eighth for a heartbreaking, 5-1 loss to the Cardinals at Miller Park on Thursday.

If Parra was downtrodden, he didn't let it show.

"I feel real good," Parra said. "I worked real hard [at Triple-A] on all aspects of the game, and to be able to come out here and execute is pretty big."

The only thing missing was the "W."

Parra scattered three singles and struck out seven in his first Major League start since June 13, and he left the Brewers six outs away from tying the Cardinals in the National League Central. Instead, the Cardinals won the series, two games to one, behind Joel Pineiro's complete game and increased their lead in the division to two games.

Mike Cameron hit an RBI single in the fifth inning for a 1-0 lead against an otherwise excellent Pineiro (7-9), one of only three Brewers hits in the game. Parra made the lead stand into the eighth inning, when the usually solid Brewers bullpen imploded.

Carlos Villanueva (2-5) surrendered a single to pinch-hitter Skip Schumaker and an RBI triple to Brendan Ryan as Parra's lead vanished. Left-hander Mitch Stetter walked the only batter he faced before the Brewers turned to Wednesday's winner, Todd Coffey, who had thrown 38 pitches in two scoreless innings the night before.

Albert Pujols yanked an inside pitch down the left-field line for his only RBI in the series. That hit gave the Cardinals a 2-1 lead, and Ryan Ludwick extended it to 5-1 with a three-run home run. When Rick Ankiel followed with a single, the Cardinals had hit for the cycle in the inning before making their first out.

"It was quick," Villanueva said. "The bottom line is it's my job to protect that lead there, and I didn't do my job. I feel bad for Manny because he did an outstanding job. I haven't talked to him yet, but I'll let things settle down a little bit and I'll talk to him tomorrow.

"He knows how it is. He knows how the game goes. I'm really happy for him, to come back here and do as well as he did today."

The Brewers begin another big series on Friday against the National League West-leading Dodgers. It's a tough matchup for a team that has lost six of its last eight games and 12 of its last 19.

If Parra was good, Pineiro was even better. He faced only 28 batters -- one more than the minimum -- in his third complete game this season and struck out five while allowing three hits and no walks.

"The one thing they always teach us is to out-pitch the other guy ... you want to last longer than he does," Pineiro said of Parra. "I tell you what, he had good stuff working for him, he had a great fastball. Every time I was swinging it was by me. He's got good stuff, and hopefully he comes back and helps that team out."

The Brewers didn't strand a single runner on base. Four batters reached including Parra, who struck out in the sixth, but took first on a wild pitch. Prince Fielder scored after he doubled in the fifth inning, but the other baserunners were all erased on double plays.

Pineiro threw only 100 pitches.

"Any time a guy is throwing strikes, you don't want to wait around," Fielder said. "You want to attack him. If he makes mistakes, you want to be aggressive."

Parra was just as aggressive on the mound, and it was clear from the start. He needed just five pitches for a 1-2-3 first inning, and was only at the 48-pitch mark through the fourth.

In all, Parra threw 77 of his 110 pitches for strikes.

"I felt pretty confident. I was ready to come up," Parra said. "The nerves really weren't an issue at all. If anything, it was anxiousness to prove that I feel confident and I worked on some things. I felt comfortable."

The Brewers demoted Parra to Triple-A Nashville after a dismal start against the White Sox left him 3-8 with a 7.52 ERA through his first 13 starts.

In four Minor League starts, he was 1-2 despite a 2.92 ERA. In his final outing for Nashville, Parra pitched seven scoreless innings at Round Rock, Tex.

"When he went there he was a whipped puppy," Brewers manager Ken Macha said. "He came back and had his head held high and his chest puffed out. He was very aggressive, he worked fast. He did a whole bunch of good things."

Did Parra agree with the "whipped puppy" assessment?

"That kind of makes you feel like a kid, so I don't like it," Parra said. "Bottom line is I was struggling." Thursday was different.

"I was aggressive," Parra said. "It came down to being confident and trusting that I can throw the ball over the plate. We put them into counts where they had to swing the bat. Before, I was trying to make perfect pitches. Today, I just trusted it and went with it."

"It was a different look from Manny," Macha said. "He worked fast. He exuded confidence. Located his fastball. ... If that's what we're going to be looking at in the second half, it would be a welcome sight."

The Brewers expect to get right-hander Dave Bush back from the disabled list soon after the All-Star break, but Parra could still be a key piece of the Brewers' starting rotation if he can repeat the performance.

"It's going to help a lot," said Fielder, who had a run-in with Parra last season in the dugout at Cincinnati, but praised the pitcher's effort on Thursday. "You saw the way he was, so hopefully he can keep it going."

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