Houser helped by Payamps' escape act in sixth

Reliever works out of inherited second-and-third jam to lift Brewers to series win

May 24th, 2023

MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers were looking for something to reverse their recent string of series losses, and maybe their performance on Wednesday afternoon was it.

retired 14 consecutive batters during one stretch of his second straight scoreless start, and , and homered in the Brewers’ 4-0 win over the Astros at American Family Field.

The Astros, after busting loose for 12 runs while beating in the opener of this three-game set, now have absorbed their first back-to-back shutout losses. Behind solid starts from and Houser, the Brewers picked up a series victory after falling in seven of their previous nine series over the past month -- and they didn’t have to deploy closer

“The team needs it,” Houser said. "We’re thin on starting pitching right now, but you can’t put pressure on yourself. The game’s already hard enough as it is, so you just have to go out there, have fun, relax and go compete your butt off.”

Here are three takeaways:

1. Houser is stepping up
Adames’ two-run home run off Houston starter Brandon Bielak seven pitches into the ballgame allowed Houser to pitch with a lead for most of his 5 1/3 innings. Over his past two starts, Houser has scattered six hits and two walks while allowing no runs. He’s pitching to contact, as sinkerballers often do; Houser has only seven strikeouts over that span.

Houser said some mechanical keys have kept him in line: keeping his upper body in what he calls “the pocket” and staying back as long as possible, while getting his front foot down early and not too far down the mound. Lately, those sections of his body have been nicely synched.

The result is a couple of solid starts when the Brewers really needed them. 

“I prepared myself as a starter. That’s what I think I am,” Houser said. “When I put in my work, that’s what I plan to do. So to be able to come here and help the team contribute after a short IL stint has been big.”

2. is this year's escape artist
The Brewers' best bullpens in recent years have had one pitcher who excels at escaping tight spots. It once was Jeremy Jeffress. Then Brad Boxberger. Of late, it has been Payamps, picked up from Oakland along with Contreras in a three-team trade with the A’s and Braves. He has inherited 13 baserunners this season, and only one has scored. Payamps stranded all four of his inherited baserunners over the past two days.

“They’re definitely intense situations, right?” Payamps said. “But you try to treat it as another outing. Try to go in there and be aggressive, attack the zone and try to get an out and let it go on the field.”

Payamps entered in the sixth after Houser, who’d retired 14 in a row before Mauricio Dubon reached on first baseman ’s error and Alex Bregman followed with a double. Next up was Houston’s most dangerous hitter, Yordan Alvarez. Houser was only at 73 pitches, but Alvarez had already seen him twice.

“Adrian, he certainly had pitches left in the tank for sure, but Joel's just been pitching very, very well,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said.

Payamps caught Alvarez looking at strike three, then retired Kyle Tucker on a lineout. A day earlier, Payamps struck out José Abreu and Jeremy Peña with a pair of runners aboard. Payamps has a 2.22 ERA and is tied with for the team lead with 23 appearances.

3. is making for some tough decisions
Miller, the Wisconsin native who homered each of the past two games against the Astros, is hitting .400 with a 1.103 OPS in May and has forced his way into Counsell’s everyday lineup, mostly at third base.

Next week, the Brewers will get back from a 60-day stint on the IL with a left hamstring injury, and there will be a logjam on the infield. ’s defense makes him valuable at second base, and Adames is locked in at shortstop.

could play more right field, but that still leaves Miller and Urías at third, unless one of them serves as the designated hitter in place of , who is still seeking his first home run.

“[Miller] has kind of earned his way into a regular spot in the lineup somewhere,” Counsell said. “He swung the bat well really all season, and the power has started to come. But he's had good at-bats really since the day he walked into Arizona.”

Said Astros manager Dusty Baker: “Almost every day, they’re hitting balls out of the ballpark on us, especially Miller. He really killed us this series. Usually when we lose a series, there’s one guy who’s a thorn in our side, and he was the thorn this series.”