Houser spins Brewers' 1st shutout in 7 years

September 5th, 2021

MILWAUKEE -- Adrian Houser took the mound Saturday at American Family Field and caught the edge of the zone one of his signature sinkers for a called strike one against Tommy Edman. It was the start of things to come.

Houser filled up the strike zone in a 4-0 win over the Cardinals, dealing a three-hit shutout for the Brewers’ first nine-inning complete game since Jimmy Nelson went the distance against the Reds on Father’s Day in 2017, and their first shutout since Kyle Lohse blanked the Reds in September 2014.

For those counting at home, that’s 1,011 regular-season games between shutouts for a Brewers pitcher -- the longest drought for any team in Major League history.

“It’s hard to do, first of all,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “Credit to Adrian for getting it done.”

Counsell smiled and added, “You can blame me, too.”

Few teams have employed their bullpen more liberally than the Brewers in recent years, but Houser gave them no reason to call down until the ninth inning, when closer Josh Hader began to get loose just in case things got away. Hader barely got going and the game was over.

Houser threw 76 of his 100 pitches for strikes and threw first-pitch strikes to 25 of the 29 batters he faced in a dramatic step forward for the 28-year-old Oklahoman, whose season was interrupted for two weeks in early August when he contracted COVID-19. He was also coming off a start at Minnesota in which he lasted only five innings, throwing only 59 percent of his pitches for strikes while surrendering five runs, including one run on a bases-loaded walk and another on a hit batsman.

The Brewers lost that night by -- you guessed it -- two runs.

“Last game was really frustrating for me,” Houser said. “I thought I was getting back to where I was before I got sick, and I wasn’t able to keep that going. I was working east [to] west. The ball was running on me a lot. I didn’t have the command that I usually have. We put in a lot of work between the last start and this start and that really helped out. We got back to having the mechanics right and getting down the mound and getting through the catcher versus around the catcher.”

One week later, he was a different pitcher.

Houser started the night 12-up, 12-down while getting called strike one against each of the first nine hitters and 11 of 12. By night’s end, Houser had gotten a remarkable 19 called strikes on the first pitch of an at-bat.

Staked to an early lead, thanks to a leadoff homer by Luis Urías and RBI knocks from Rowdy Tellez and Luke Maile, Houser took an aggressive approach to begin the night.

“They were a little passive early, so there was no reason to slow down with it,” Maile said.

“Our guys were disciplined enough to take really quality strikes and not get themselves out for the most part, and then you look up and you’re behind in the count, and then the guy continues to make good pitches throughout the counts,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “When that’s taking place, it’s really a tough recipe, tough sledding to hit.”

All night long, the sinker was the key. Houser has thrown it 52.8 percent of the time this season, but on Saturday, he threw it 71 times in 100 pitches.

“The sinker away, the back-door sinker, was a really effective pitch,” Counsell said. “He seemed to have that pitch whenever he wanted it. When you have as good a sinker as Adrian does, that makes the plate just feel really wide. Get them leaning out over the plate and still have to be aware of the ball running in on their hands. It was a gem, no question about it.”

“He’s a guy who’s a little bit of a throwback,” Maile said. “He is able to throw a sinker and kind of tell you what’s coming. It’s his best pitch, right? He has a lot of success with that. When he’s able to command both sides of the plate with it, you rely on it. Make them prove we need to do something else there.”

The Cardinals didn’t have a baserunner until Nolan Arenado hit a first-pitch single in the fifth, and Houser erased him two batters later with an inning-ending double play. Tommy Edman singled to lead off the seventh and he, too, would have been erased on a double play had Brewers shortstop Luis Urías not had momentary trouble getting O’Neill’s tailor-made double-play grounder out of his glove.

Houser took the mound to an ovation in the ninth at 91 pitches and finished what he started, working around Edman’s two-out single to win the game.

The Brewers’ magic number to clinch the National League Central dropped to 16 against the second-place Reds, who also won Saturday.

“I was locked in but I noticed it,” Houser said of the ovation. “It got me a little more amped up. It’s great to hear the fans going nuts like that, especially now during September trying to finish this NL Central race off and go to the postseason.”