Houser's issues form pattern in decisive 5th

September 9th, 2020

If you want to know what 2020 has been like for 27-year-old Brewers sinkerballer , see the fifth inning of Tuesday’s 8-3 loss to the Tigers at Comerica Park.

On another night in which Milwaukee’s offense put pressure on an opponent but lacked the big hit, Houser remained winless since Aug. 5 after another round of soft contact, the likes of which have burned him throughout his first full season as a big league starter.

Houser wasn’t hit hard, but it was nevertheless another frustrating night as the Brewers (18-22) matched their low point of 2020 at four games under .500. He was charged with five runs on four hits and a pair of costly walks in 4 2/3 innings, with four of those runs scoring after a moment of hesitation for Brewers third baseman . Three of them came after Houser had departed in favor of reliever during Detroit’s game-breaking, five-run fifth inning.

“I’ve been working on some things here and there the last few starts, trying to get some things figured out,” Houser said. “Tonight I thought I had everything working how we wanted, it just wasn’t my night.”

The box scores, of course, don’t care that he had everything working and was burned by a good piece of hitting here, or a missed defensive chance there. They reflect only that Houser’s season to date looks like this:

First two starts: 2-0, 0.75 ERA, 0.92 WHIP
Next six starts: 0-4, 7.45 ERA, 1.62 WHIP

Statcast offers a fuller view. Entering Tuesday, the average exit velocity of balls in play against Houser was just 85.7 mph, putting him in the 88th percentile in MLB. That was right in line with last season, when opponents’ balls in play averaged 86.7 mph and Houser finished the year with a dozen promising starts.

But when those balls in play are put in the wrong place, it can ruin a pitcher’s night. In the decisive fifth inning on Tuesday, Houser created trouble with a leadoff walk to .175 hitter Christin Stewart. Austin Romine followed with an 85.8 mph single. Then, following a flyout, Tigers leadoff hitter Victor Reyes reached for a changeup low and away and floated it into left-center field -- 85.5 mph off the bat -- for an RBI single that doubled Detroit’s lead to 2-0.

“Obviously, you don’t want a walk to lead off the inning, but I think the changeup hit is really where the inning turned,” Houser said. “All we needed there was a ground ball and double play to get out of it. The guy put a good swing on a good pitch.”

Then came another turning point.

Isaac Paredes grounded the next pitch to Urías at third. Instead of charging the lead runner, Stewart, or throwing around Stewart toward second base in an attempt to start a double play, Urías threw to first base for an out.

“I don't think he had a good grip on the baseball at that moment,” Counsell said. “He kind of double clutched.”

That left first base open for a four-pitch walk to Miguel Cabrera that prompted a pitching change to Suter, who saw Jeimer Candelario’s two-run single buzz right past his glove. It was the first of three straight hits off Suter, capped by Jorge Bonifacio’s two-run single that gave the Tigers a 6-0 lead and closed the book on Houser.

Counsell pointed back to the Cabrera walk as the key juncture in the game’s critical inning.

“He had Miguel Cabrera, and you know, that's Miguel Cabrera, but we've got to get the last out of the inning right there -- and then it's a chance to have a good outing. We had a four-pitch walk, unfortunately,” Counsell said. “That's the next step for Adrian. That's the big out in the game. You're going to have big outs in the game, and you have to get that big out in the game. You're going to have very few starts where it just runs clean the whole start.”

The Brewers’ hitters had chances to give Houser room to work more comfortably, but they were limited to three runs despite putting the leadoff batter on base in six different innings. Milwaukee went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position (after 3-for-12 on Sunday at Cleveland) and hit into three double plays before put the Brewers on the scoreboard with an RBI single as part of a three-run ninth.

“We're in September, and we're chasing -- so we can say the rest of the way that these are important games,” Counsell said. “You lose a game and you decrease your margin for error. That's where it sits.”