MILWAUKEE -- Brett Anderson showed that swing and miss stuff is not exclusive to the Brewers’ young guns.
Channeling his inner Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta and Brandon Woodruff, the veteran left-hander struck out nine in his best performance in that department in six years, while delivering seven scoreless innings against the Reds on Tuesday night at American Family Field. But the Brewers couldn’t score for him, and when Brad Boxberger came on in the 10th inning in relief and provided exactly the opposite, Milwaukee was saddled with a 2-1 loss.
The Brewers, winners of nine of 10 games and 14 of 16 coming into this series, have lost on consecutive nights for the first time in three weeks, since they dropped the middle two of a four-game series against the Padres in the final week of May. They also ensured a series loss for the first time since dropping both games in Kansas City on May 18-19.
It wasn’t for a lack of effort from Anderson, who dueled for seven innings with Reds right-hander Luis Castillo.
“He just executed a whole bunch of pitches and there was a crispness to it,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said of Anderson. “Everything was good -- curveball, changeup, a little cutter, sinker. It was, really, a pitching clinic. That’s as good a performance as we’ve seen this year.”
It begged the question: Who needed this outing more, Anderson himself or the Brewers as a team?
Probably both, since quality innings are as valuable as ever with the team in a stretch of 33 games in 34 days, and since Anderson had been frustrated by his recent results. In his first six starts since returning from an April leg injury, Anderson had cleared four innings only twice and five innings only once. He was coming off a start against the Reds last Wednesday in which he was defeated by soft contact to the tune of five runs (four earned) on five hits in three innings.
In the rematch Tuesday, he was stellar. Anderson allowed just two baserunners, while matching his longest start of the season at seven innings. Anderson ended both innings in which a Reds batter reached base with strikeouts, including one of Aristides Aquino to end the sixth, which gave Anderson an eighth whiff on the night, his most since he matched a career high with 10 strikeouts for the Dodgers against Christian Yelich and the Marlins on June 26, 2015.
“You don't want to be the weak link,” said Anderson, who has watched Burnes, Peralta and Woodruff become the sixth trio in the last 40 years to post ERAs of 2.25 or better through at least 10 starts apiece. “Obviously, I'm the fifth starter by stuff and whatnot, but you still want to do your part and keep your team in ballgames and give them a chance to win.
“If I continue to pitch well and pass it on to Freddy and so on and so forth, I can be part of a stronger chain this time, instead of the weak link.”
When Anderson ended a 1-2-3 seventh inning with a ninth strikeout victim (Joey Votto), and the Brewers stranded the bases loaded in the bottom of that inning on a dubious called strike three against Jackie Bradley Jr. with the bases loaded, Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell faced a decision: Leave Anderson in the game at 82 pitches, or turn to a rested Devin Williams and Josh Hader? Counsell chose the latter.
“He was ‘up’ seven times, and he hasn’t been there recently and so it was just time,” Counsell said of Anderson. “There was a little debate, there was a little discussion and I thought it was just time.”
It worked when Williams and Hader preserved the shutout through the ninth inning, but then Tuesday ended ugly. Boxberger, unscored upon in 26 of his first 29 appearances this season, including the last 12 in a row, took over with the free runner on second base in a scoreless game and hit Tyler Stephenson with a pitch, walked Joey Votto and hit .169-hitting Eugenio Suárez with a pitch to force home the night’s first run, all before recording an out. Two batters later, Kyle Farmer added on a critical insurance run with a sacrifice fly.
“You kind of like to have those games be 1-0, get out of here in two hours and everybody's happy,” Anderson said. “When the pace goes quick, you're bound to play extra innings. That's just how baseball is sometimes.”