MILWAUKEE -- How far can a bullpen carry a team?
The Milwaukee Brewers are about to find out.
Relying one more time on a relief corps that has worked overtime of late, the Brewers held on Monday night for a 4-3 victory over the San Diego Padres at Miller Park.
It was the fourth consecutive victory for the Brewers, who hit the 20-game mark with a 15-5 record, best in the major leagues.
"We've been doing a lot of good things," said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke. "We've got a nice mixture with the veteran guys. Things will go the other way sometime. Hopefully, it's really short.
"You can't expect in the next 20 (games) to keep doing what we're doing. But when we play good baseball, we're a good team."
With a really good bullpen. After Wily Peralta (3-0, 2.19) hit the wall in the seventh inning in an otherwise solid start, Roenicke again went to a bullpen that has been almost impenetrable this season, including eight stout innings in a 14-inning victory in Pittsburgh the previous day.
Will Smith got it started by entering a one-run game with runners on second and third and one down in the seventh. He issued a walk to pinch-hitter Xavier Nady to load the bases but escaped by getting Seth Smith to fly out to shallow left and striking out Chase Headley on three pitches.
"It's a nice feeling, especially the way Wily pitched all game," said Will Smith, a former starter who has not been scored on in 11 relief appearances. "He went deep to help us out. We went 14 innings yesterday. It was nice for him to go that deep. He deserved the win so it was nice to come in there and get the job done."
Next up was Tyler Thornburg, another former starter who has found a niche as a high-leverage relief pitcher. Thornburg pitched a scoreless eighth and now has allowed just one run over his 11 appearances.
That left it to the indefatigable Francisco Rodriguez, called upon for the fourth consecutive game to lock down the ninth inning. Roenicke swears he asked Rodriguez before the game if he was OK to pitch but might as well have saved his breath because the veteran closer never says no.
"Every time they ask me if I want a day off, I always look at the schedule and tell them the day that we have off," said Rodriguez. " 'Kranny' (pitching coach Rick Kranitz) told me today to take it easy and I said Thursday (an off day). That's my day off."
Not informed until the day before the season opener that he'd be the closer, Rodriguez has been automatic in converting all eight of his save opportunities to move into 19th place on the all-time list with 312 for his career. He has allowed five hits, no runs and two walks in 11 innings while striking out 16.
Asked how many games he thought Rodriguez could pitch in a row if the manager had no say, Smith smiled and said, "All of them."
"He's unreal; he's awesome," added Smith. "To have a guy like that in the bullpen you can follow around and ask questions, it's unreal what he does. It's nice to have guys like that."
Neither team fared well with runners in scoring position (a combined 4 for 19) but a lot of that had to do with the starting pitchers, San Diego's Andrew Cashner and Peralta. Cashner allowed only four earned runs in four starts entering the game, but the Brewers managed to scratch out that many against him in six innings.
Ryan Braun, who had no runs batted in during the first nine home games, knocked in a pair with a single and sacrifice fly. Scooter Gennett, the new No. 2 hitter, tripled in a run, scored one and added a single. Aramis Ramirez chipped in with his third homer of the season and Peralta and Co. made the four runs stand up.
"He's good," Roenicke said of Cashner. "I think we did a great job against him tonight. You go into the game and you're hoping you'll get a couple of runs. We had some really nice at-bats."
The Brewers managed to turn a first-and-third, one-out situation in the eighth inning into a double play with another episode of screwy base running, but a one-run lead is plenty good with Rodriguez on the premises.
So, just how far can a good bullpen carry a team?
"Really far," said Rodriguez. "As long as you're healthy, everything is going to be fine. We have a good balance out there."
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