CLEVELAND -- It was the sort of situation in which Brewers reliever Jeremy Jeffress has thrived this season. Two on, one out in the fifth inning of a tie game. A turning point. Jeffress, dubbed the Brewers' middle-inning "closer" by manager Craig Counsell, had been turning these moments Milwaukee's way
CLEVELAND -- It was the sort of situation in which Brewers reliever Jeremy Jeffress has thrived this season. Two on, one out in the fifth inning of a tie game. A turning point. Jeffress, dubbed the Brewers' middle-inning "closer" by manager Craig Counsell, had been turning these moments Milwaukee's way as the Brewers built the best record in the National League.
Not Wednesday. Jose Ramirez greeted Jeffress with a go-ahead double and the next two batters walked, including Yonder Alonso with the bases loaded, in the Brewers' 3-1 loss to the Indians at Progressive Field to complete Cleveland's two-game sweep.
After winning six straight series to cap a month of May in which they never lost consecutive games, the Brewers have dropped four of their first five games in June to the White Sox and Indians, including three defeats in a row.
"We just lost 3-2 and 3-1 to [Corey] Kluber and [Carlos] Carrasco. Tough games. They pitched well," Counsell said. "It's on to the next city."
Indians starter Carrasco followed a 14-strikeout complete game in Milwaukee last month with 10 more strikeouts in seven innings against a Brewers offense that has scored three or fewer runs in all four of the team's June losses. Milwaukee starter Chase Anderson avoided the long ball for the second straight start, but he needed 85 pitches for 13 outs, walked three batters and benefitted from center fielder Lorenzo Cain running down a pair of deep fly balls to the warning track.
Anderson was charged with all three runs in the decisive fifth, finding trouble when Rajai Davis singled from the nine-hole and Francisco Lindor walked. Michael Brantley tied the game at 1 by beating the Brewers' infield shift with a ground-ball single to the open hole at shortstop, off the glove of a diving Eric Sogard.
Enter Jeffress, who had stranded 18 of his first 20 inherited runners this season. Since Javier Baez's RBI triple off Jeffress on April 6 at Miller Park, the only inherited runner to score against Jeffress went home on an error. That was April 27, again against the Cubs, again with Baez swinging the bat.
This time it was Ramirez, who pulled Jeffress' third pitch, a sinker down in the zone, to the right-field corner for a 2-1 Indians lead. Jeffress then walked Edwin Encarnacion on six pitches to load the bases and Alonso on five pitches to make it 3-1 before escaping further damage.
"Jose Ramirez is in the top of the league as far as offensive players right now, and it's a tough spot for anybody," Counsell said.
Added Anderson: "I want to stay in the game right there, but I kind of understand. J.J. has been our lockdown guy bridging the gap from the starters to the back end of the bullpen. He wants a better result as much as I do. Luckily, he got out of it with us in striking distance."
Brewers hitters weren't able to strike. Following Travis Shaw's RBI single in the third inning for a 1-0 lead, Carrasco and three Cleveland relievers allowed three harmless singles and one walk.
"You play against good teams and you play against good pitching, your margin for error for everybody -- pitchers and hitters -- you have to capitalize on everything," Counsell said. "We might have had more hits than them in both games, but they bunched their hits together a little bit better."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Carrasco's escape: The Brewers' best chance to crack Carrasco came in the second inning, when the veteran right-hander's recent two-out troubles re-emerged. In his previous two starts, Carrasco allowed 10 runs and a .556 (10-for-18) opponents' average with two outs, and it looked like more of the same when Jonathan Villar, Erik Kratz and Sogard hit successive singles. Carrasco worked the count full against Cain, who registered his dismay when home-plate umpire Quinn Wolcott called a 3-1 pitch a strike before hitting an inning-ending flyout that let Carrasco off the hook.
"We'll take Lo Cain up there every single time," Counsell said.
Brantley beats the shift: The Brewers shifted Sogard behind second base against Brantley with two aboard in the fifth. That left him just out of reach of a ground ball to the open hole, which ticked off a diving Sogard's glove.
"Not a lot of teams shift like they did today, as deep as they were," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "But the first inning he hit a ball to the left side of second for a hit. My guess is if they shift 'Brant', he'll be one of the hitters that will beat the shift more than he doesn't."
"Really, the Brantley ball is the ball that got us in trouble," Counsell said. "He hits a squibber, and hits it in the right place that it ends up we can't get an out. At that point, first and third with Ramirez, really the goal is to get out of there with one [more] run and probably be down 2-1 coming out of that inning."
Wolcott's eighth-inning ejection of Counsell was so benign, it didn't raise any audible reaction from a crowd of 21,315. The disagreement came amid the Indians' second pitching change of the inning, after Wolcott had called Strike 3 on an Oliver Perez sinker at the bottom of the strike zone against Shaw. It was Counsell's third ejection this season.
Had a disagreement been brewing all day?
"No, there was nothing brewing all day," Counsell said. "It was a benign ejection for me. I don't know what I said. There was no profanity used. I don't know. Once he ejected me, there was some words exchanged, but it wasn't my intention to get ejected, by any means."
After a day off Thursday, the Brewers open a three-game series against another NL team reaping the benefits of a brief rebuilding period, Gabe Kapler's Phillies. Milwaukee starter Jhoulys Chacin is 4-0 with a 2.60 ERA in his last 10 starts heading into Friday's 6:05 p.m. CT matchup against Philadelphia right-hander Vince Velasquez.
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.