MILWAUKEE -- You see it so often. A bullpen closer is called on with no save on the line and he doesn't look like the same pitcher.
That affliction got the best of Milwaukee Brewers closer Francisco Rodriguez, one of the most experienced closers in the majors. Taking over in the ninth inning of a 1-1 game, Rodriguez was ripped for three runs Wednesday night as the Pittsburgh Pirates pulled out a 4-1 victory at Miller Park.
"I see it a lot," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said of closers failing in non-save situations. "I just talked to the guys about it. Sometimes, I think when Frankie has been throwing a lot, maybe that's not the time to always put him in there.
"We usually do, but maybe that's not the time to do it. But he can pitch anywhere. It doesn't usually bother him that much. He'll be fine."
Rodriguez's troubles started with a one-out single to right by Ike Davis, followed by a base hit to center by Jody Mercer. Rodriguez got ahead in the count, 0-2, against No. 8 hitter Chris Stewart but didn't get his changeup down and Stewart stroked it to center for an RBI single.
Rodriguez then hung a 1-2 curveball to Starling Marte, who pounded it to center for a two-run double and 4-1 lead.
Rodriguez has been struggling to get his changeup down in recent outings, including his first blown save of the year Sunday against New York. The changeup is a "feel" pitch and it hasn't been there of late.
"Everything was out over the plate," said Rodriguez, whose ERA went from 0.45 to 1.64. "You miss with your location, that's what's going to happen. It's the price you have to pay.
"More than anything, it's the release point. You've got to stay behind the ball more and stay on top of it. That will create the downhill angle."
As for pitching without a save on the line, Rodriguez said, "It's always tough, whether it's a 1-1 game, up by one, up by two, down by one. It's always tough. In that situation, you have to find a way to keep the score where it is and give the offense an opportunity.
"Unfortunately, it wasn't my day. I didn't perform on the level that I was expecting, that everybody was expecting. You have to turn the page quick and be ready for tomorrow. My arm feels great; my body feels great. It's just an adjustment I have to make."
The game was dominated for most of the night by the starting pitchers, Brewers right-hander Wily Peralta and Pirates lefty Francisco Liriano. Peralta allowed five hits and one run over seven innings with four strikeouts, and Liriano surrendered four hits and one run during his six-inning stint with seven strikeouts.
"Wily threw a great game," said Roenicke. "He kept the ball down well; a great fastball. He threw more changeups today and a good slider. We just didn't score for him."
Liriano entered the game with a 0-3 record and 4.64 ERA, but Roenicke said those numbers meant nothing on this evening.
"He's tough," said Roenicke. "Those numbers aren't going to stay like that. He can pitch."
The Pirates struck first after Andrew McCutchen drew a leadoff walk in the fourth and raced to third on Pedro Alvarez's single through the right side. Jose Tabata grounded into a force at second to score McCutchen, but Peralta stopped the damage there.
Liriano pitched out of a two-on, one-out jam in the fourth by getting Mark Reynolds to ground into a double play. But the Brewers finally broke through to tie the game in the fifth after Khris Davis led off with a double into the left-field corner.
Merely trying to move over Davis, Jean Segura hit a grounder to first baseman Davis, who bobbled it to put runners on the corners with no outs. Jeff Bianchi followed with a sacrifice fly to left to make it 1-1 before Liriano shut the door.
Peralta said he knew from the outset that runs were going to be hard to come by and he looked forward to the challenge of matching pitches with Liriano.
"When you face those kinds of pitchers, you know it's going to be a close game," said Peralta, who lowered his ERA to 2.05. "You have to keep it as close as you can. You better go out there and make pitches."
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