Brewers erupt with 5-HR barrage to snap slump vs. lefties

May 15th, 2024

MILWAUKEE – Last year, the Brewers didn’t hit much against lefty starters.

This year, they have barely seen lefty starters.

On Wednesday, they not only saw one, but they made the most of it.

William Contreras and Gary Sánchez homered in Milwaukee’s five-run third inning, Sal Frelick made it back-to-back games with a homer in the fourth, Joey Ortiz sent one a Statcast-projected 425 feet in the fifth and Jackson Chourio went even deeper -- 441 feet, per Statcast -- for his first homer in more than three weeks in the sixth as the Brewers made it a day to forget for Pittsburgh left-hander Martín Pérez in a 10-2 win over the Pirates at American Family Field.

“Once you get those runs, that shutdown inning is crucial,” said the Brewers’ own lefty starter, rookie Robert Gasser. “If you’re able to get that, then your hitters are able to go in there again and be like, ‘OK, let’s do the same thing.’”

Again and again, that’s what those hitters did.

“Putting up that much on anyone, it’s fun,” Ortiz said.

The five-homer barrage matched a single-game franchise record against one pitcher – the Brewers also slugged five homers against a couple of Reds, Hunter Greene in 2022 and Chris Reitsma in 2002. Gasser, meanwhile, held the Pirates to one run in five innings and has a 0.82 ERA through his first two Major League starts.

(If you’re wondering about the modern record for most home runs allowed by a single pitcher in a single game, it’s six. That has happened 10 times since 1901, according to Stathead, including Michael Blazek in a spot start for the Brewers at the Nationals in 2017.)

For Brewers hitters, it was a breakout for a team that entered the day with a .595 OPS against left-handed starting pitchers, second-lowest in MLB to the White Sox’s .561 mark. The Brewers were hitting .194 against southpaw starters going into Pérez’s outing, making them the only team in baseball with a sub-.200 batting average.

And it was not as if Pérez had been hit around this year. In his first four road starts, he had surrendered six total runs in 22 2/3 innings. The Brewers touched him for nine runs, all earned, in five-plus innings.

“He didn't have his best day, but he can pitch,” Brewers manager Pat Murphy said. “We haven't had many shots [against left-handers]. We'll find out a little bit more.”

Contreras hit leadoff and finished with three hits and four RBIs in his 18th multi-hit game of the season; only Shohei Ohtani has more in MLB this year. Frelick had three hits and another home run after hitting his first homer of the season the night before. Ortiz, Sánchez and Chourio also contributed multiple hits.

As a result, Gasser became the first pitcher in franchise history to pick up a win in each of his first two appearances.

“I felt a little more confidence coming in,” Gasser said. “Definitely, the nerves are still there. … But I have to go out there and do my job, and I’ve got nine guys to help me out.”

It was the sort of offensive performance the Brewers envisioned after making moves over the winter to improve their lot against lefties. Last year, on the way to winning the National League Central, they were 70-44 against right-handed starting pitchers and 22-26 in games against lefties.

The biggest additions were first baseman Rhys Hoskins, who landed on the IL Tuesday with a strained right hamstring, and Sánchez, who has backed up Contreras behind the plate and will see additional work at first base with Hoskins sidelined for the next 2-4 weeks. But Ortiz and Chourio are also right-handed hitters new to the big-league team. And Contreras has taken his game to another level, going 14-for-27 on the homestand while the Brewers won five of seven games against the Cardinals and Pirates.

“Really, it’s crazy watching him doing what he’s doing,” Chourio said. “I really enjoy watching him and his routine. That’s something I’ll learn more from.”

It has been an educational couple of weeks for Chourio, who has earned his way back into the regular lineup after what amounted to a mental reset at the start of this month. His home run made him the fourth player aged 20 or younger since 1901 with at least five homers and five stolen bases in his first 39 career games.

A player wants to be on this list. The others are Fernando Tatis Jr. (2019), Carlos Correa (2015) and Ken Griffey Jr. (1989).

“I think I learned how to just go out there and play,” Chourio said of his time on the bench. “Take every AB like it could be your last. Just go out there and have a good time.”