MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers rode an untouchable bullpen in their surge to first place, but Ron Roenicke acknowledged Wednesday that he's recently had more difficulty figuring out how to manage his relief corps, as some pitchers have entered midseason swoons.
When the Brewers used a 19-8 April to grab first place in the National League Central, the bullpen played a key role, finishing the month with a 2.45 ERA and a 1.042 WHIP. With the team's grip on first place slipping in July, relievers carried a 4.48 ERA and 1.332 WHIP. The numbers have been similar through the first four games of August.
"We were lights out," Roenicke said. "When Tyler [Thornburg] was pitching great and [Jim] Henderson was in there, it's a lot easier. It is. Because everybody I was putting in there at the time was not just getting through the inning, but 1-2-3. Now it's changed.
"[They have] different roles, but also they're not as clean of innings. And now I'm thinking about warming a guy up and bringing him into that inning. I didn't really think about that too much earlier."
Some of it has been injuries, with righties Thornburg and Henderson spending extended time on the disabled list. In some cases, it's been the wear and tear of the season. Will Smith, in his first full season as a reliever, allowed one run total over 25 1/3 innings in April and May but has struggled as he gets further into the season.
Roenicke's shifted mindset was evident in Tuesday's game against San Francisco. After Jimmy Nelson lasted seven innings, Smith entered in the eighth with a one-run lead and recorded one out before walking the second batter he faced. Roenicke summoned righty Jeremy Jeffress, who walked the first batter he saw.
A sliding catch by Gerardo Parra in foul territory was the second out of the inning. Roenicke then left Jeffress in to face Buster Posey, saying that was the best matchup. Jeffress struck Posey out on an off-speed pitch.
BREWERS BULLPEN AT A GLANCE
Roenicke said that the bullpen's struggles have made him more likely to replace relievers mid-inning and look more closely at matchups, as was the case Tuesday.
"Until somebody gets locked in again," Roenicke said. "Smith was so good earlier I would just leave him in the inning. [Zach] Duke the same way. Hopefully we get those guys back pitching where they were and then I don't have to have so many guys warming up and thinking about bringing guys in."
One boost for the team has been the emergence of Jeffress, a power righty was called up to the Major League club in late July and has proven he can handle some high-leverage situations.
"I think he's in that role. He's going to be one of those guys," Roenicke said. "We'd like to get [Brandon] Kintzler going again so we can get him in those roles where we have the tough right-handers. J.J., he's had some people on base, he's gotten in a little bit of trouble last night, but to get out of it, to make a big pitch when he needed to, was good."
Caitlin Swieca is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.