MILWAUKEE -- Statistically, Chase Anderson’s 10-run dud last weekend in Washington, D.C. was one of the 10 worst starts in Brewers history. But the right-hander bounced back on Saturday night to help seal a series victory.
“That’s exactly what it was, and those were exactly his first two words when I said that was it for the night. He said, ‘Good bounce back,’” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said.
Eric Thames and Trent Grisham slugged back-to-back home runs in the fourth inning to back Anderson’s five impressive frames in a 4-0 win over the D-backs at Miller Park, setting up a chance for Milwaukee to sweep the three-game set on Sunday afternoon.
The bullpen will be in good shape for the finale after Junior Guerra, Matt Albers, Alex Claudio and Jay Jackson combined to record the final 12 outs of the Brewers’ fifth shutout and their third straight win. It kept them 3 1/2 games behind the National League Central-leading Cardinals and lifted them within two games of the Cubs, who own the second NL Wild Card spot.
Here’s a trip around the horn after the Brewers’ first shutout since May 10 at Wrigley Field:
First base: A tweak paid off for Anderson.
It was Anderson’s first trip to the mound since he allowed 10 earned runs on nine hits in 2 1/3 innings of Sunday’s 16-8 loss at Washington, hours after the Brewers and Nationals toiled for 14 innings and nearly six hours in a classic slugfest the night before. By game score, it was the ninth-poorest start in Brewers history and the worst since Hiram Burgos allowed 12 runs (10 earned) in three innings of a loss in Cincinnati in May 2013.
But Anderson had his good stuff again six days later, especially after escaping a 23-pitch first inning. Anderson scattered three hits and two walks in all, and he struck out five in his first scoreless start since going 5 2/3 innings against the Braves on July 17. He has allowed three runs or fewer in 11 of his last 12 starts -- the dud in D.C. being the exception.
“I didn't watch a single pitch” of that game, Anderson said. “I went back to my mechanics and changed a little bit of that up. I made a little tweak for this outing during my bullpen [session]. It paid off today, and I’m going to work on honing that in. It's just to help me get a better base from my back leg to be more directional to the plate and be more consistent with my release point. It worked out today, so I'm going to try and continue to do it.”
Second base: Thames is making the most of it.
Thames, whose share of playing time at first base has increased since the Brewers traded Jesus Aguilar for pitching on July 31, has homered in back-to-back games. That gives him 19 this season.
But he’s not feeling great at the plate.
“I feel like I’m grinding out the jungle,” Thames said. “It’s tough. The barrel feels a little bit slower than it did in April and May, but that’s the name of the game. You just have to go out there and run and get a good pitch. I’m just happy to be able to get some timely hits. I’m not getting 2-3 hits a night, but the hits have been in situations where the team got fired up. ‘Grish’ came up right after me and hit one, too. It was pretty awesome.”
Third base: Jackson is poised to play a more prominent role.
The Brewers signed the 31-year-old Jackson just as Spring Training was getting underway after he pitched the past three seasons in Japan. Jackson is in his third stint with the Brewers after logging a 1.33 ERA in 33 games at Triple-A San Antonio and has held opponents scoreless in seven of his last eight appearances with Milwaukee. The right-hander has made 14 appearances and thrown 17 2/3 innings for the Brewers this season, and after recording the final four outs of Saturday’s win, only Josh Hader has more strikeouts per nine innings than Jackson’s 13.75 or a better opponents’ batting average than Jackson’s .172.
“He’s definitely been more comfortable as we’ve got him here, and his stuff’s playing,” Counsell said. “His strikeouts are telling you that, for sure. He’s been a nice find for us. Getting him and Devin Williams going a little bit here is a real key for us as we move forward with our bullpen. Some of the other guys -- Albers and Claudio and Guerra -- I feel like we’ve got good roles for them. But we need more guys. I feel like Devin and Jay are really close to emerging here.”
Home: The Brewers won again without Hader.
Saturday marked Hader’s seventh straight day of rest. Generally, that is good news, since the Brewers will need Hader fresh over the final five weeks of the regular season if they are going to surge in the standings. But relievers need work to stay sharp, and Hader got some on Saturday even though he never emerged through the bullpen door.
“The thinking was because we had him up in the seventh and the eighth, I thought we gave him a little bit of work there,” Counsell said. “We had him available for the ninth if anything started going, but Jay did a great job in the ninth. So, I thought we got [Hader] a bunch of work. Putting him in the game -- I thought it was a pretty taxing day, so if we could avoid that, he will obviously be available [Sunday].”