Suppan surrenders 10 runs in opener

Suppan surrenders 10 runs in opener

MILWAUKEE -- Technically, the Brewers didn't hit the low point of their season on Monday. It only felt that way.

Starter Jeff Suppan was left in the game long enough to allow 10 runs and 10 hits, including the first of Nationals right fielder Josh Willingham's two grand slams, as Washington, owner of Major League Baseball's worst record, stormed into Miller Park for a 14-6 win in the opener of a four-game series.

The Brewers lost for the 15th time in 22 games this month and fell under .500 -- at 49-50 -- for the first time since they were 9-10 on April 27. The low point of the season was a week earlier, when the team was five games under, at 4-9.

Leave it to outspoken outfielder Ryan Braun, whose fifth-inning, two-run homer brought the Brewers back to within a run at 6-5 before Suppan and two Brewers relievers let it slip further away, to provide some perspective. Or not, because Braun, through a club spokesperson, reported that he had nothing to say.

Willingham was in a more talkative mood.

"That was a special night and one I will never forget," Willingham said. "You don't get the opportunity to do that many times, much less come through in both situations." 

Willingham hit his first off Suppan (5-8) as part of a six-run fifth inning and another off Mark DiFelice in a seven-run sixth. Willingham became the 13th Major Leaguer to hit two grand slams in a game, and the first since Boston's Bill Mueller in 2003. Only two National Leaguers had accomplished the feat and the last was St. Louis' Fernando Tatis, who hit a pair of slams in the same inning off then-Dodgers right-hander Chan-Ho Park in 1999. Tatis also happened to hit one on Monday for the Mets.

Willingham hit a Suppan fastball and connected on a hanging cutter from DiFelice.

"A cement mixer," DiFelice said. "Josh Willingham is a great hitter. My hat's off to him. That hasn't been done for a long time, two grand slams in one game. But it happens."

Suppan's outing spoiled a solid night for the Brewers' offense, including Corey Hart's second home run in as many games for a 2-0 lead in the second inning and a two-run shot by Braun that pulled the Brewers back to within a run in the fifth.

Nationals starter Craig Stammen couldn't finish the five innings he needed to qualify for the win, so it went to reliever Jason Bergmann (1-1).

Suppan hasn't won a game since June 12 and the Brewers are 2-6 in his starts since then. Suppan fell short of the worst start of his career -- he surrendered 11 runs to the Cubs last season -- but the 14 runs allowed by the team were the most this season.

The outing turned in a hurry after Suppan held the Nationals scoreless through the first four innings. None of Washington's first five hitters in the fifth inning saw more than two pitches, including Nyjer Morgan, who singled in a run, and Ryan Zimmerman, who was hit by a pitch two batters later to load the bases. Adam Dunn worked an eight-pitch at-bat against Suppan that ended in a walk, knotting the game at 2.

Suppan struck out Nick Johnson to bring up Willingham, who hit the first pitch he saw for a 6-2 lead.

"I tell you, he had a good day," Suppan said. "As far as the at-bat off me, I got that strikeout and I was trying to throw a sinker down and away and it ran in the middle. Obviously, he drove the ball very well today."

Suppan escaped further damage, then batted for himself in the bottom of the inning and sacrificed Jason Kendall to second base after a leadoff double, helping the Brewers score the first of their three runs. Suppan was already at 96 pitches when Macha decided to leave him in.

"We've been in our bullpen a lot," Macha said. "I think he was one pitch away from getting out of that [fifth] inning. He had pitched four shutout innings before and we had the bottom of the order coming up, so we had to get another inning out of him.

"Plus, we're looking at 'Villa' [reliever Carlos Villanueva] starting tomorrow, we're going to have to get out in the bullpen again. [Suppan] said he was fine."

Suppan faced five batters in the sixth inning, including Cristian Guzman, who made it 8-5 with a two-run double. Usually-reliable left-hander Mitch Stetter didn't retire either hitter he faced, allowing Dunn's RBI double before walking Nick Johnson. Enter DiFelice to face Willingham, who slugged his way into the history books.

"[Suppan] said he was fine," Macha said. "He was adamant about it. In retrospect, yeah, it looks like it wasn't the right thing. But you can't be going out to the bullpen after four innings every night. ...

"The entire starting [rotation] has been a concern for some time. It's not like this just popped up on us. We've been talking about how many innings we've been going into the bullpen every night, so yeah, it's a concern. If I have a totally fresh bullpen out there with guys who have been rested, it's probably different."

Asked whether the bullpen is showing signs of wear, DiFelice said, "It's been tough the last few weeks. But I think our manager does a great job of managing the bullpen and not trying to over-use too many guys. It's a long season, and right around now you hit that wall. You just have to get over it. The last three weeks have been tough."

Coupled with the Cubs' win over the Astros on Monday, when Alfonso Soriano hit a grand slam in the bottom of the 13th inning, the fourth-place Brewers fell four games behind the NL Central-leading Cubs. Does DiFelice still consider his team a contender?

"I do. I really do," DiFelice said. "You can put our offense up against just about anybody in the league, and we're going to pitch. So we're definitely a playoff-caliber team."

If Suppan could get back on track, he sure would help. In his last two starts, losses against the Pirates and the Nationals, Suppan has been charged with 15 runs on 17 hits in 8 2/3 innings.

"Not very good," Suppan said.

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