MILWAUKEE -- Travis Shaw found the right lumber at just the right time on Monday to help the Brewers climb back atop the National League Wild Card standings.On his first swing after breaking one bat on a foul ball and declining a replacement with a cracked handle, Shaw pulled a
MILWAUKEE -- Travis Shaw found the right lumber at just the right time on Monday to help the Brewers climb back atop the National League Wild Card standings.
On his first swing after breaking one bat on a foul ball and declining a replacement with a cracked handle, Shaw pulled a go-ahead two-run home run into the right-field bleachers and sent the Brewers to a 5-2 win over Homer Bailey and the Reds at Miller Park.
Milwaukee pulled within three games of the Cubs in the NL Central with win No. 70 this season and broke a virtual three-way tie with the Phillies and Rockies for the top NL Wild Card spot. All three of those rivals were idle on Monday.
Good thing the batboy picked a good stick.
"That one broke, too," Shaw said with a smile. "I got jammed a little bit. But I knew I had enough."
Christian Yelich hit his 20th home run in the fifth inning before Shaw connected with that fresh bat for a 3-2 lead in the sixth, just as ace reliever Josh Hader was getting loose in the Brewers bullpen. With a lead in hand, Hader breezed through two perfect innings on 24 pitches, and Milwaukee tacked-on two insurance runs in the eighth before Jeremy Jeffress notched his fifth save for the Brewers' second straight win.
Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell has drawn criticism of late for his sparse use of Hader and Jeffress, his top two relievers. But they combined to cover the final three innings of Sunday's 2-1 win in St. Louis, and Counsell went for it again Monday despite a starter -- Chase Anderson -- who appeared to be on cruise control.
Eugenio Suarez and Phillip Ervin hit home runs in the second inning for a 2-0 Reds lead, the NL-leading 25th and 26th home runs off Anderson this season. He locked in after that, though, retiring the final 14 batters he faced.
"I think my focus got better, honestly, after the homers," Anderson said. "I know the homers have kind of been a big thing for me this year. A lot of solo homers. … But today, I found something as the game went on. I was able to refocus and keep our team in the game.
"I think that was the biggest position. Give our guys a chance. You see what they do when you face a guy a third time through the lineup."
That concept was part of Counsell's decision to employ an early hook. Anderson had thrown just 76 pitches but was about to face the Reds' 3-4-5 hitters -- left-handers Scooter Gennett and Preston Tucker sandwiched around NL RBI leader Suarez -- for the third time. So when the Brewers extended the sixth inning long enough for Anderson's spot to come up, Counsell pinch-hit with slick-fielding shortstop Orlando Arcia and left him in the game as part of the double-switch that brought Hader to the mound.
"Once you get a lead and Hader comes in, usually good things happen," Shaw said.
Would Hader have pitched had the Brewers remained behind?
"I'm not sure," Counsell said.
Asked about the decision to use a combination of Hader and Jeffress for the final three innings on consecutive days, "I feel like the games have gone the way we needed them to go."
The Reds lost for the 16th time in Bailey's 17 starts this season.
"These guys know how to use a bullpen when they've got a lead like that," said Suarez, the NL leader with 92 RBIs, who struck out against Hader in his final at-bat of the night. "Hader is one of the hardest left-handers in the league."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Insurance runs: Backup Brewers outfielder Keon Broxton has made his presence felt the past two days, backing up to the wall to catch the final out of Sunday's win in St. Louis before knocking an RBI triple off tough former teammate and Reds reliever Jared Hughes for the first of two Brewers insurance in the eighth on Monday. Broxton then scored on Manny Pina's sacrifice fly, giving Jeffress some room to work.
"The last four innings, I thought we did a nice job with the at-bats," Counsell said. "The eighth inning was a good inning. [Ryan Braun] draws a walk and Keon put a nice swing on Jared, who's been having a pretty good year. That was a beautiful swing."
Game over: Anderson and Hader combined to retire 20 consecutive batters before Jeffress, back on the mound a day after throwing 32 pitches in two innings against the Cardinals, surrendered a single to pinch-hitter Mason Williams to start the ninth inning. When Jose Peraza walked, it brought Scooter Gennett to the plate representing the tying run with one out, but Jeffress induced a game-ending double play.
"I've had that workload before, but they told me [Monday afternoon] to make sure to be cautious, let them know if I need a day," Jeffress said. "But I felt good. We got some good rest yesterday and came here ready to go. I was good."
While fans debate whether Counsell and the Brewers are deploying Hader in the most optimal way, there's this: His light workload in August appears to have rejuvenated him. According to Statcast™, Hader has posted two of his top five average four-seam fastball velocities in his past two outings.
1. 95.9 Aug. 19
- 95.5 Aug. 5
- 95.4 May 8, June 26 (two pitches), Aug. 20
"There's no question. The Josh we've seen the last two days has been different," Counsell said. "He's been a different guy, somebody who looks a little bit refreshed."
Coming off a disappointing showing against the Cubs at Wrigley Field in which he allowed seven runs (six earned) in 3 2/3 innings, Junior Guerra starts Tuesday against the Reds at Miller Park, where he has a 2.59 ERA in 14 starts this season. Right-hander Sal Romano starts for Cincinnati in the 7:10 p.m. CT contest.
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.