Pitching stumbles as Brewers take loss

Pitching stumbles as Brewers take loss

MILWAUKEE -- With principal owner Mark Attanasio in his seat next to the dugout, in town to talk trade possibilities, the Brewers as they are currently constructed continued to stumble.

Manny Parra wasn't sharp in his five innings, and neither were the Brewers relievers who followed in Friday's 9-4 loss to the Braves at sold-out Miller Park. The Brewers' 13th loss in 19 games this month left them with a 48-48 record, sitting at .500 for the first time since they were 10-10 on the morning of April 29.

Manager Ken Macha said he knows the antidote.

"To me, it's obvious," Macha said. "We've got to get better pitching if we're going to make a positive move."

What he meant was that the Brewers need better outings from the starters already in house, but Attanasio's attendance showed that the team is also serious about exploring trades. Parra allowed 13 baserunners in his five innings, but limited the damage to four runs, three of them coming on Martin Prado's third-inning home run that gave the visitors a 4-0 lead. Milwaukee's Craig Counsell knocked a two-run double in the bottom of that inning and Ryan Braun belted a two-run homer in the fifth that knotted the game at 4, but the tie didn't last.

Losing pitcher Carlos Villanueva (2-7) surrendered a go-ahead, two-out homer in the sixth to Chipper Jones, who continued to torment Milwaukee's pitchers. Chris Smith was charged with three more runs in 1 2/3 innings including Nate McLouth's two-run homer. And Seth McClung surrendered a run of his own in the ninth inning before exiting with discomfort in his surgically repaired right elbow.

That was plenty for Braves starter Javier Vazquez (8-7), who surrendered more than two runs for the first time in more than a month but nonetheless won his third consecutive start. He limited the Brewers to four runs on seven hits in seven innings and struck out nine.

"This guy knows how to maneuver the ball around," Macha said. "He can elevate. He can get it down. He's got good arm action on his slow curveball at about 70 mph, and a good changeup. When you've got an ERA under 3.00, you've got pretty good stuff."

Macha's own pitchers didn't have as much success. Particularly Parra, who needed 106 pitches to get through five innings and left the final four frames to an overworked bullpen.

"We need to step it up with the starting pitching," Macha said. "[Saturday] would be a nice day to do that. ... I don't see us playing that poorly. We're just not getting the pitching. We scored four runs off Vazquez tonight, and if you get in the pennant race, you're going to have to win games 4-3, 3-2, 3-1. You need to have that pitching go out into the game and be eyeball to eyeball with the other team."

Saturday starter Yovani Gallardo will aim for better results than Parra, who was coming off two solid starts since a demotion to Triple-A Nashville, but on Friday slipped into some bad habits. He threw 19 pitches in the first inning, then needed only nine for the second but surrendered his first run. It scored thanks to smart baserunning by Braves right fielder Matt Diaz, who eluded the tag on an inning-ending double play long enough for Yunel Escobar to score from third base.

After that, Parra's pitch count soared. He threw 26 pitches in the third inning, when Prado extended the lead by hitting a changeup for his sixth home run -- "I've been beat on that pitch too much, in my opinion," Parra said -- then threw 34 more pitches in the fourth.

"I didn't establish the fastball inside to the righties at any point in the game," Parra said. "They were able to lean out over the plate and they were able to hit some good pitches I made down and away. When I did go in, I missed. That had a lot to do with it.

"I fell behind too many times. Mechanically, I wasn't going straight to the plate today. I was a little off."

His night could have gotten worse in the fourth, when the Braves loaded the bases with one out. Next up was Jones, who was a perfect 5-for-5 against Parra this season, including singles in his first two at-bats on Friday. This time, Parra struck Jones out. Then he then retired Brian McCann on a deep fly ball to left field to keep the Brewers close.

"I don't know what the deal is with [Jones], but that's a tough out," Parra said. "I was pretty excited to get that out."

Villanueva wasn't as lucky. He retired the first two hitters he faced in the sixth before Jones went deep for the 12th time this season. Villanueva's ERA swelled to 6.18 and he made another quick exit, dressing and leaving the clubhouse before reporters entered.

Villanueva isn't the only Brewers pitcher to have trouble retiring Jones, who finished 3-for-4 with two walks on Friday and is hitting .615 (8-for-13) against the Brewers this season with three home runs.

"When Chipper Jones hit that home run and gave them a one-run lead, that changes how you use your bullpen," Macha said.

Brewers cleanup hitter Prince Fielder matched a career high with four strikeouts, including two with a runner at third base, one with a man at second and another after Braun's homer tied the game at 4. Fielder had worn the so-called "golden sombrero" only once before and not since April 3, 2006, when he went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts on the first big-league Opening Day of his career.

"In the clutch, he clutched it in," Braves manager Bobby Cox said of Vazquez. "He got one of the best hitters in baseball four times, but that's Javy. He can do that. He can reach back and he has all the pitches to do something like that."

At least Fielder didn't lose his sense of humor. He credited Vazquez as "a good pitcher," then delivered the line of the night.

"No contact. Good swings, though," Fielder said. "Line drives to the catcher."

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