Houser's shaky start signals bigger issue

April 23rd, 2019

ST. LOUIS -- The Brewers demoted prized young starter to the Minors because he was serving up too many home runs. On Monday they promoted another promising arm, , to fill the spot. And Houser promptly served up too many home runs.

Dexter Fowler and Paul Goldschmidt connected for two-run shots to spoil Houser’s first Major League start in a 13-5 loss that perpetuated Milwaukee’s pitching problem. It marked the first time since 2015 that the Brewers hit four home runs in a game and lost.

“We have some really talented arms here. Some guys have performed well, others haven’t,” said president of baseball operations David Stearns after the Brewers (13-11) lost for the fifth time in six games. “I think we’ve seen flashes from a number of guys that they can compete here and contribute here.

“Clearly, we need more consistent starting pitching than we have had thus far. And I do think we’re going to get it.”

The bullpen made it worse in a seven-run seventh inning that began with left fielder whiffing a fly ball on the run, but the struggles of Brewers starters is arguably the more consistent issue. With Houser’s outing -- four-plus innings, nine hits, five earned runs, one walk, three strikeouts -- Milwaukee’s starting pitchers saw their collective ERA rise to 5.81 in 24 games. That ranked fourth-worst in the Major Leagues as manager Craig Counsell took the baseball from Houser’s hand. Only the Orioles’ starters have allowed more home runs (31) than the Brewers’ (29).

Subtract , who is scheduled to take the mound here Tuesday with a 1.19 ERA, and the rest of Milwaukee’s starters have logged a 6.92 ERA while allowing 27 homers in 95 innings.

“It’s accurate we need to do a little bit better, yeah,” Counsell said. “But these are our guys. They’re talented guys. We have to get a little more out of them, that’s for sure. It’s obviously going to be a work in progress. Talent-wise, I’m still really comfortable with what we’ve got.”

The Brewers decided it was time to commit to three young starting pitchers, but so far 26-year-old has a 5.81 ERA, 24-year-old Burnes made his Triple-A season debut Monday after allowing 11 home runs in his first four Major League starts, and 22-year-old is sitting on a 7.13 ERA while on the 10-day injured list.

Meanwhile, some well-known names are out there in free agency. Left-hander Dallas Keuchel is one. Another familiar left-hander became available Monday, presumably at a lower price, when Gio Gonzalez was granted his release from a Minor League deal with the Yankees.

On Sunday, asked whether the team had interest in bringing Gonzalez back, Stearns declined to comment. Gonzalez was still under contract with the Yankees then.

As of Monday afternoon, Stearns’ public stance remained the same.

“I won’t comment one way or the other,” Stearns said.

After the game, Stearns said, “We’re always open to improving however we can. That's true whether there are available pitchers, or via trade. If there are ways we think we can improve, we'll certainly pursue them."

Houser, 26, was supposed to help. The Brewers made him the Opening Day starter at Triple-A San Antonio and Houser excelled in three games, striking out 18 batters versus two walks in 16 1/3 innings with a 1.10 ERA.

Houser’s result Monday was doubly disappointing considering the Brewers had just tied the game in the fifth inning against Cardinals starter Jack Flaherty after going 13 up, 13 down on 59 pitches to begin the night. Braun drove a first-pitch home run to right field with one out in the fifth inning for Milwaukee’s first hit, and, after Eric Thames walked, homered to the visitors’ bullpen in left.

In the span of three batters, the Brewers went from the wrong end of a perfect game to a 3-3 tie.

Houser couldn’t hold it. Matt Carpenter singled leading off the fifth inning before Goldschmidt hit a high curveball for a two-run home run that gave St. Louis the lead for good. Six of Goldschmidt’s first nine home runs this season have come at the Brewers’ expense.

“That’s very disappointing on my part,” Houser said. “The guys battled back there and tied it up for us, and I didn’t come out and do my job and Goldschmidt took advantage. He did what he needed to do, and I didn’t.”

Perez is confident that better days are ahead for Brewers pitchers.

“Oh, yeah. For sure,” he said. “I mean, they are a great group of young guys. I think they still have a little bit to learn, but they are going to do great. They did a great job last year, and they are going to get it, for sure.”