Christian Yelich logged his first RBI since Opening Day. If the Brewers were looking for something, anything, to buoy them on the way to their 13th loss in the last 17 games, that was the thing on Friday night.
They came to a hitters’ ballpark in Cincinnati to face a Reds team coming off a 15-run loss to the Giants to cap a sweep, and a pitcher, Jeff Hoffman, with a 7.53 ERA in his last four starts. But it was mostly more of the same for the Brewers, who managed to score three late runs but took a 9-4 loss at Great American Ball Park -- and also lost leadoff man Kolten Wong after he fouled one pitch off his leg and took another pitch off the elbow.
Adrian Houser put the Brewers in a hole Friday by allowing three home runs while getting 12 outs, but in a macro sense, the problem remains the offense, which is largely healthy again with Yelich back from the injured list, but still isn’t putting many crooked numbers on the scoreboard early in games. The Brewers are 21-for-155 (.135) with runners in scoring position during their 17-game slide, including going 1-for-9 on Friday.
“We're just not really synching up right now,” Houser said. “But all it takes is one game for us to get going. One game, and I think that will happen here soon.”
A version of “it just takes one game” has been the Brewers’ mantra in recent days, and once Yelich finds his timing, it will surely help. He was 0-for-4 with a run-scoring groundout when he represented the tying run in the seventh -- his first RBI since singling as part of a ninth-inning comeback on Opening Day -- and is hitless in 10 at-bats with six strikeouts since coming off the IL. If you include his rehab assignment to Triple-A Nashville, Yelich is hitless in 15 at-bats with eight strikeouts since his balky back began to cooperate.
“Hitting is contagious, just the same way the opposite [can be true] when everything is going bad; it seems like it's gone bad one through eight,” Travis Shaw, the Brewers’ leader with 24 RBIs, said Friday afternoon. “We just need to break the seal here. This is a good place to do it, a good hitting environment and it's going to be warm here this weekend, so I think the ball will be flying a little bit.”
There’s one good thing: Yelich so far has played all three games since returning from the IL. The schedule helped with that. Yelich served as the Brewers’ designated hitter in Kansas City on Tuesday and Wednesday, before manning left field Friday.
Yelich’s best chance to make an impact came when he batted with runners at second and third with two runs already across in the seventh inning, pulling the Brewers to within 6-3. In an 0-2 count, Yelich fouled off a 99.7 mph fastball from Reds reliever Tejay Antone to stay alive, before delivering a run-scoring groundout.
A productive at-bat, but not the big blow that Yelich has been known to produce against the Reds. He remains stuck on one extra-base hit in his first 54 plate appearances this season.
“His time is going to come,” Shaw said. “I know health-wise, he feels great right now. So that's a good sign. Everybody's starting to get healthy at the right time, we just need to start hitting a little bit better. And lineup-wise, everybody is kind of slotting into where they're supposed to be.”
The Reds, meanwhile, had no trouble at all hitting the baseball out of the ballpark. With Joey Votto and Mike Moustakas on the injured list, it was two of Cincinnati’s other left-handed hitters who gave Houser trouble. Tyler Naquin hit a three-run home run in the first inning and Jesse Winker hit two of his three home runs on the night off Houser, including in the fifth inning when the Brewers, playing with a short bullpen in the wake of Friday’s trade with the Rays, gave Houser an opportunity to start a third turn through the lineup.
There was another sliver of good news for the Brewers after the game. An X-ray of Wong’s right elbow was negative; Counsell described his early exit as precautionary.