CINCINNATI -- The Reds were hot coming into American Family Field before the All-Star break.
After two series against the Brewers, they’re not.
That’s what good pitching -- and particularly a good bullpen -- can do.
Christian Yelich finished a triple shy of yet another cycle against the Reds and third baseman Andruw Monasterio delivered the go-ahead hit in the eighth inning before the Brewers’ hard-worked relievers finished a 4-3 win at Great American Ball Park on Sunday. The victory capped a three-game sweep and asserted Milwaukee’s place atop the National League Central, two games ahead of second-place Cincinnati with only one series remaining between the teams.
The Brewers held the Reds to three runs on 10 hits over the series, with all three runs and seven of the hits coming in Sunday’s finale. Electrifying rookie Elly De La Cruz was 0-for-12 with five strikeouts.
“It's a huge statement,” Brewers starter Adrian Houser said. “It gets us in a good spot to keep going.”
Said Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson: “They smacked us around, there's no hiding that.”
Houser and the Brewers’ starters were good, but the relievers were special over the past three days. Elvis Peguero and Joel Payamps each delivered scoreless innings on Friday and Saturday in tight games. When they were unavailable on Sunday, left-hander Hoby Milner delivered two scoreless, one-hit innings.
Devin Williams locked down saves in all three games without allowing a hit. His decision to rest at the All-Star Game proved wise, as he’s pitched in eight of the Brewers’ past 11 games.
“I mean, what else can you say?” manager Craig Counsell said. “It was an important series. He came in today and he said, ‘I want the ball today in the ninth.’ And it worked out. He pitched a great inning in a one-run game.”
Bryse Wilson, Milner, Peguero, Payamps and Williams -- the Brewers’ core relievers over the past two months -- worked 9 1/3 scoreless innings in the series while allowing one hit and two walks with 13 strikeouts. Counsell would love for one more arm to step up to join that group.
“We've got this group of five that's been here all year, and all five of them have had really nice seasons,” Counsell said. “We're definitely going to need somebody else in that group. Hoby pitching two innings, that's kind of an anomaly. That's not going to happen very often. But I'm asking for a lot, I understand.”
Milner took over in the seventh on Sunday with the Brewers trailing, 3-2, and got the eighth after Owen Miller delivered a sacrifice fly and Monasterio singled to put the Brewers ahead. Milner was perfect in his second inning of work to pass the lead to Williams.
A soft-tossing lefty having success in an era in which every Major League reliever seems to throw 97 mph, Milner is unscored upon in 21 of his past 22 outings.
“Regular work is No. 1 for me,” Milner said. “Managing my workload and making sure I feel good enough but not too good every day. … It’s nice being different. I don’t throw hard enough to be conventional, so I have to be different.”
Peguero, the 26-year-old acquired with two other pitchers from the Angels in last winter’s Hunter Renfroe deal, is unscored upon in 29 of his 35 appearances. What’s been the key to his step forward this year?
“I know my sinker is good, and it’s very natural, thankfully,” Peguero said. “Sometimes guys ask me what I do with it. I just throw it.”
Payamps, 29, was overlooked when the Brewers acquired him from the A’s as part of a three-team trade in December that landed catcher William Contreras from the Braves. But Payamps has proven just as important, stepping into a setup role thanks to an improved slider with about twice as much horizontal movement as last year.
“Like everything, when you’re throwing something new, you’re going to struggle with it. I think that’s why I struggled a little bit in Spring Training,” Payamps said. “Thankfully, we kept on it, and it’s gotten better as the year’s gone on.”
Then there is Williams, who continues to evolve as baseball adapts to his unique, air-bending changeup. He’s unscored upon in 34 of his 37 appearances this season.
“Especially with how hot [the Reds'] offense has been -- it’s been one of the best offenses in baseball over the last month -- it’s good to see us come in and shut them down and slow their roll,” Milner said. “Hopefully we start a little slump for them. That would be nice.”