Brewers' bullpen game fizzles quickly after lights-out start

Crew takes 1-hit shutout into 6th before 2 big HRs prevent club from gaining in WC race

September 21st, 2022

MILWAUKEE -- Someday, maybe it will be obvious who won the Josh Hader trade. At the moment, both teams are focused on finding a way to the finish line.

While Hader and the Padres have performed better of late, and the Brewers continue to stumble. Take the seventh inning of Tuesday’s 7-5 loss to the Mets at American Family Field, in which Rogers walked the first three batters he faced and paid a heavy price when Francisco Lindor launched a go-ahead grand slam that sent the Brewers to their third straight loss.

Instead of gaining ground in the National League Wild Card chase after the Phillies took their fifth straight defeat, the Brewers remained 2 1/2 games out of postseason position with 14 games to go.

“You know what, man, there’s just no excuse for it,” Rogers said. “You can say new place, new catchers, new all this stuff. You just have to keep the ball in the yard. I haven’t been doing that.”

That problem wasn’t exclusive to Rogers. On a bullpen day started by in his early return from the injured list, the Brewers were working on a one-hit shutout and had retired 14 in a row when got the first out of the sixth inning. But after Pete Alonso smashed a three-run home run off and Lindor hit a first-pitch slam off Rogers, the Mets had turned a 4-0 deficit into a 7-4 lead while making only four outs.

Brewers manager Craig Counsell had ready to face right-handed-hitting Alonso if he could retire Lindor. But it was too late.

“It’s the same approach,” said Rogers of where the Brewers go from here. “Show up and win the day. The bullpen has been doing an outstanding job. It was a tough task we had today, and you add tomorrow [a day game] on there, too. The bullpen guys have been doing what they need to do, except for me.”

Rogers has a 6.63 ERA in 20 appearances as a Brewer and has surrendered six home runs in his first 19 innings since the trade that sent Hader to San Diego for Rogers, himself a highly decorated closer in the midst of a rough stretch at the time, plus prospects Robert Gasser and Esteury Ruiz and former NL Cy Young Award candidate Dinelson Lamet, who was designated for assignment the following day.

It was a surprising trade for a first-place Brewers team, but Hader had wobbled for much of July and club officials believed the time was right to trade him for prospects with Hader under team control through 2023. The thinking was that Rogers, a free agent after this season, could help cover some of Hader’s high-leverage innings while slid into the closer role.

On many nights since the trade, it’s worked. Of Rogers’ 20 Brewers appearances, 13 have been scoreless, and in a 14th, the lone run was unearned. Eleven of those outings have been hitless. For the final two weeks of August and his first outing of September, Rogers delivered eight straight outings without an earned run.

But when Rogers does give up runs, they hurt.

“It’s the nature of the bullpen. Nobody cares when you’re doing good,” Rogers said. “They only care when you’re doing bad. I accept that. That’s part of the gig. That’s how it goes.”

That’s life for a late-inning reliever like Rogers, who took his first Brewers loss after allowing four runs on two crushing homers in an Aug. 14 loss at St. Louis, suffered a blown save and a loss in a Sept. 6 game in Denver that the Brewers led, 6-1, in the eighth inning but lost, 10-7 in the 10th. And he absorbed another blown save at the start of this homestand when the Yankees' Josh Donaldson homered in the ninth inning to tie a game the Brewers ultimately won.

In all of those games, home runs were the problem. Rogers allowed only one in his 41 1/3 innings with the Padres this season.

“I don’t have an explanation for that,” Counsell said. “I don’t think we’ve found one for that. It’s for sure been confusing.”

For those desperate to see some urgency from the Brewers as they try to play their way into the race, there was delivering four more hits and two RBIs, and Ashby pitching for the first time in 32 days, since inflammation in his left shoulder landed him back on the injured list. He had thrown two bullpen sessions since then, topping out at about 30 pitches. He had faced no hitters. And yet, the Brewers, trying to get through the rest of the regular season with a depleted rotation, activated him from the IL to throw a couple of innings against the Mets.

On Friday in Cincinnati, the Brewers are plotting a similar gamble with lefty .

Time is running out.

“They're really good over there,” Mets manager Buck Showalter said of the Brewers. “They're playing for something that's really important to all of us, getting a chance to roll the dice in October."