When a team is in the middle of a stretch of 17 games in 17 days and has 14 different players on the injured list, that club needs its lesser-known players to step up. That’s exactly where the Brewers were as they welcomed the Dodgers to Milwaukee for a four-game series on Thursday.
Brewers manager Craig Counsell knew he needed to get his rotation some extra rest without a scheduled off-day in sight, and rather than have Freddy Peralta start the series opener, Milwaukee selected left-handed pitcher Eric Lauer from the alternate training site to take the bump against Los Angeles.
Lauer -- or the “Dodger whisperer,” as he can now be called -- was more than up to the challenge.
In five innings of scoreless ball, Lauer scattered four hits and two walks while striking out three to lead the Brewers to a 2-1 win at American Family Field. Lauer improved his career record against Los Angeles to 6-0 with the win, and he lowered a 2.11 ERA versus the Dodgers to 1.89 (10 earned runs in 47 2/3 innings).
“There was nothing magical about it. We needed a guy to step up, and [Lauer] was the guy to do it,” Counsell said. “He's been in this spot before. He's pitched in these games, he's pitched against this team a lot, so you know that part is crossed off and not going to faze him.”
Lauer started seven times against Los Angeles in two seasons with the Padres after making his Major League debut in 2018, and his six wins against the club are the most he's had against any other Major League team. In three big league seasons prior to making his season debut on Thursday, Lauer was 9-19 with a 5.24 ERA in 50 other appearances against MLB teams not named the Dodgers.
As great as the defending World Series champions have been since Lauer came into the league, he has been successful against his former division rivals.
“Everybody knows they’re a really good team. They’ve got a great lineup, a bunch of really good, disciplined hitters,” Lauer said. “I feel like, for me, I enjoy that challenge. It’s one of those things that makes you raise your game. I enjoy facing them because they’re a really good team.”
“He’s got our number, I guess. He makes pitches against us,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “He mixes a little bit with the cutter, the changeup, the breaking ball. You have to give him credit. He has our number.”
Lauer managed to outduel reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer -- who pitched all eight innings against the Brewers -- in the first meeting between the teams since the 2020 NL Wild Card Series. In that series, the Dodgers swept the Brewers in two games en route to winning their first World Series title since 1988. Though Lauer was limited to just 73 pitches on Thursday, he set the tone to ensure there would be no sweep for Los Angeles this time around.
Lauer allowed no more than one hit per inning, and after he set the Dodgers down in order in the top of the fourth, Brewers third baseman Travis Shaw gave him some breathing room with a two-run blast down the right-field line in the bottom of the frame. Lauer started the fifth with two quick outs, but got into his first real jam of the game after walking Bauer and giving up a single to Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts.
Up to the plate came 2020 World Series Most Valuable Player Corey Seager, who had previously hit a two-out single in the third inning. But Lauer -- apparently the Dodgers’ kryptonite over the last four seasons -- induced an easy flyout to left to end his day without a blemish.
“He threw the ball really, really well,” Counsell said. “Lots of life on his fastball, his changeup was located, his cutter was good and he mixed up some slower breaking balls. Just the way the ball was coming out of his hand, just really good life in the zone. You could see it from the side. He pitched wonderfully.”
Even with the seemingly endless line of players going to the Brewers’ training room and an overall modest offensive output, Milwaukee managed to improve to an NL Central-best 15-10 on the season.
“It just shows what our pitching’s done,” Shaw said. “Our pitching’s been unbelievable.”