The Brewers’ bullpen: consistently inconsistent
Other than Zack Greinke, none of the Brewers starters have factored in many decisions this year. That means they aren’t responsible for the win or loss. In total, Brewers starters have taken 15 losses. But, the Brewers have 26 losses overall, which leaves 11 losses to the relievers.
Which brings me to my point. The Brewers’ bullpen has struggled mightily early on this season. Probably not as bad as some teams in the Majors, but it definitely isn’t the bullpen of a contender at this point. The Brewers’ ‘pen currently consists of Tim Dillard (4.26), Kameron Loe (2.86), Manny Parra (3.70), Juan Perez (6.75), Francisco Rodriguez (4.66), Jose Veras (5.16), and John Axford (4.11). (Their respective ERAs are in parentheses.)
There are a lot of high ERAs there. Only one of them is below 3.00- that’s Loe, and history shows he probably won’t keep that up. The rest of the guys are simply underperforming; at least they were early in the season. Some of them appear to be panning out, but others not so much.
Dillard had a terrible start to the season. He’s one of the guys who looks to be calming down, as he’s brought his ERA down by a large margin over his past few outings. Parra has been on and off throughout his first 19 appearances after missing the entire 2011 season. His splitter was nice to start the season, but he’s been leaving it up lately, hence some of his recent struggles. He gave up a go-ahead home run to Trevor Plouffe of the Twins earlier this week, and then gave up a couple of runs in long relief today. The strikeout numbers are there, though- 25 of them in 24 1/3 innings. I doubt Perez will be on the roster long, unless he becomes a lot more consistent. I know he’s only thrown five innings, so it’s too early to judge. But, you can tell by the way he throws that there’s always the possibility of him getting shelled. K-Rod had his share of early season struggles, but has simmered down as of late, and looks like he’s turning back into a reliable setup man. Veras is still an enigma- sometimes he’ll go out, look dominant, and gain my confidence, but then in his next outing he’ll get hammered. I’m still not very comfortable with him as a seventh-inning guy, but we don’t have many other options at the moment. Lastly, there’s Axford. His basic numbers don’t really show it, but, during save situations, he’s been dominant. The reason for his 4.11 ERA is that he flops in non-save situations, like many closers do. But it’s good to see he’s still striking out guys, with 26 in just 15 1/3 innings.
So that’s a rough description of our bullpen at the moment. It isn’t exactly the late inning relief that’s the issue; it’s primarily the middle relief. This is going to sound radical, but I honestly think the Brewers should start digging around their Minor League system for some homegrown talent. I’m not talking about recalling guys like Mike McClendon, who we know are going to go out and give up six runs a game. But I mean some younger guys who don’t have as much Major League experience, and are looking to get their feet wet. You never know what you could find.
My first example is Jim Henderson. You may have heard rumors about the possibility of him getting called up recently, and I think the Brewers should. His ERA is a sparkling 0.00 through 20 1/3 innings at Triple-A Nashville. Another thing I like about him is his history as a strikeout pitcher. His career K/9 is just 6.9, but he’s ramped it up the past few years, including a 9.74 mark thus far this year. Supposedly, the reason he isn’t getting called up is because of his inconsistency throughout his career. In 2011, his ERA at Triple-A was 5.93, and he’s had a few other bumpy years throughout his career as well. But, Henderson has found his fastball command this year, and he’s benefiting from it. So I think the Brewers should give him a chance.
Another possibility is Wily Peralta- yes, the Brewers’ top starting pitching prospect. Peralta has a bright future as a starter. But, if for some reason that doesn’t work out, he definitely has the stuff to be a middle-late inning relief pitcher, as he’s consistently in the upper 90’s with his fastball. Peralta has one game of Major League experience under his belt so far, giving up a run in an inning against the Rockies. But he’s struggled a bit lately after being optioned back to Triple-A, and he’ll have to get back into form if he wants to get recalled.
There are various other options for the bullpen through the Brewers’ Minor League system, and I obviously can’t get to all of them. But the Minor Leagues are just one resource for relief help. The Brewers could always attempt a trade, like the deal they made last year for K-Rod. Or the guys we already have in the bullpen could step it up a notch. Any of these things could work. All I ask is the Brewers do something to start winning games, and a shut-down bullpen is one of the keys to doing that.