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Milwaukee Brewers Should Consider a Fifth Starter Tandem

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Yesterday, manager Craig Counsell told reporters that the Brewers were moving Kyle Lohse to the bullpen. Lohse, who is reportedly being placed on revocable trade waivers, has endured a nightmare season for the Brewers: he leads baseball in losses (13) and most earned runs given up (87), while allowing the most hits (152) in the National League. Though Lohse has been able to maintain his velocity and strikeout rates, he is giving up home runs at a career high rate of 1.8 HR/9 and estimators like a 5.67 DRA and 5.15 FIP don’t help his numbers look any better. In terms of DRA_PWARP, Kyle’s -1.15 mark ranks 651st of 663 pitchers this season.

For tonight’s game against the Cardinals, Lohse’s spot was given to 26 year old Tyler Cravy. The righty, who ranks as the Brewers 26th best prospect, has made two other starts this season with mixed success: a 7.0 inning, six strikeout, one run performance on June 2nd against St. Louis and a 6.0 inning start against Atlanta on July 7th where he allowed four earned runs. Overall, Cravy has solid numbers in a small, 15.0 inning MLB sample size: a 3.60 ERA, 3.56 FIP, and a WHIP of 1.267 with nine strikeouts. With little left to prove at AAA (where he’s posted a 3.92 ERA in 18 starts over the last two seasons), it makes plenty of sense to give Cravy an extended look in the rotation.

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However, Cravy is not alone in his worthiness for a chance to prove himself as a starter. The Brewers might have more young, quality pitching depth right now than they have at any time in recent memory. Beyond Cravy, there are young pitchers like Tyler Thornburg, Michael Blazek, or even prospects Zach Davies and Tyler Wagner that all appear to possess the potential to experience success in the big league rotation right now. Blazek, in particular, is an interesting case: he pitched well as a starter in AAA last season and has been quite successful in a long relief role this year. He throws three above average pitches at different speeds (fastball, slider, curveball) while striking out 21.3% of opposing batters and walking slightly over 8%. With a 2.26 ERA, an even better 1.95 DRA, and a penchant for getting ground balls (47.7%), Blazek appears to have the tools to slot into the middle of an MLB rotation.

One way that Milwaukee could give extended looks to a couple of these pitchers at the same time would be to employ a tandem system in the fifth slot in the rotation. While rarely seen in the majors, tandems are often employed in the minor leagues. A starter is scheduled to throw the first four or five innings of a game and then another pitcher is scheduled to come in and complete it. This was the case last night for the Brewers’ high-A affiliate, the Brevard County Manatees, who won their game over the Tampa Yankees by a score of 2-1:

RHP Johnny Hellweg (W, 1-3): 5.0 IP || 0 H || 1 ER || 4 K || 3 BB
LHP Zach Hirsch (S, 1): 4.0 IP || 3 H || 0 ER || 2 K || 1 BB

The Brewers would be able to allow each pitcher scheduled to work enough innings to be able to start building a solid sample size, while also giving the pitchers a longer time to get their arms stretched out by keeping their initial outings limited to 4-5 innings pitched. Since wins and losses are of no consequence this season, each pitcher should be given the chance to face a myriad of different situations that may occur during any given start and have the opportunity to show Brewers’ brass that they can be successful while pitching more than once through the order. This could include working out of jams, facing both lefty and righty batters, coming back from giving up a long home run, etc. With 52 games remaining this season, the fifth spot in the rotation should see somewhere between 10-11 turns through. This would effectively give the Brewers 20+ “starts” to get a look at the various candidates to begin next season in the starting rotation.

Kyle Lohse’s time in Milwaukee appears to be close to an end, and now is a perfect opportunity for the Brewers to start taking a look at what the future of their starting rotation could look like.  As of right now the Brewers have four spots claimed in next year’s rotation by Matt Garza, Jimmy Nelson, Taylor Jungmann, and Wily Peralta, there are somewhere between three to five legitimate candidates for the fifth spot. With a wealth of MLB quality pitching depth, one creative way for the rebuilding Brewers to get a look at several of their candidates throughout the rest of the season would be to install a fifth starter tandem for the remaining two months of 2015.

Next: Hobbs Johnson Shouldn't Be Overlooked

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