ATLANTA -- The Milwaukee Brewers' struggling hitters did little Monday night to qualm concerns that they might drag down the team from its first-place standing.
But Topic A after this discouraging game was not the offense. The overriding question was what to do with rookie reliever Wei-Chung Wang.
Wang turned a one-run game into a rout by allowing five runs in the eighth inning to allow the Atlanta Braves -- who had been the lowest-scoring team in the National League -- to pull away to a 9-3 victory at Turner Field.
Wang's horrific outing left him with a 17.61 earned run average and forced Brewers manager Ron Roenicke to call upon first baseman Lyle Overbay to record the final out in the eighth.
What was Overbay's pitching background?
"I pitched in high school and a little bit in college," said Overbay, who was drafted by Arizona out of Nevada-Reno in 1999.
It was the second time this year that Roenicke used a position player to save his bullpen. In a 9-3 loss in St. Louis on April 30, backup catcher Martin Maldonado pitched the eighth inning. Wang came in that day for injured starter Matt Garza and allowed six hits and four runs over three innings.
Because he hasn't wanted to expose Wang to close games, Roenicke had not used Wang since May 6 against Arizona. The 22-year-old lefty has pitched just six times in 45 games, getting hammered for 19 hits and 15 runs in only 7 2/3 innings.
Roenicke admitted it's difficult to expect much from Wang after going so many days without pitching. Never mind that the Rule 5 draft pick pitched in rookie ball last year and is trying to make the unprecedented leap to the major leagues.
Teams must keep Rule 5 picks all season or offer them back to their original club, which in Wang's case is Pittsburgh. General manager Doug Melvin reiterated last weekend that the team is determined to keep Wang to develop for the future despite the fact that it is more difficult for contending teams to do so.
Roenicke prefers to use Wang in lopsided games, but the Brewers rarely play one. The anemic offense is too challenged to open big leads, and the pitching has been too strong to allow opponents to pull away.
So, what's the answer with Wang, who declined to speak after the game?
"The answer is let's get our offense going and we can bash the ball, and then we can bring him in when we have a big run differential," said Roenicke. "But our pitching is so good that we always usually keep their run total down. So, if we don't score, we're always in a tight ball game.
"It's really difficult to know which way to go with this. We didn't do it in Chicago in the exact same situation (over the weekend) and we end up using two pitchers in the eighth inning, and we can't keep doing that. With where we were and having to have some pitchers for tomorrow, we thought we had to do it.
"It's very difficult for a kid to go that long without pitching and then come into a tight ball game and expect to get people out. That's tough. It's hard for me to put him in those situations, but unfortunately that's what we needed to do."
It was a close game until the eighth only because Brewers starter Wily Peralta battled his tail off to keep the Braves from blowing it open early. Peralta needed 53 pitches to get through the first two innings and was constantly in trouble but prevented Atlanta from delivering a knockout blow.
When Peralta departed after five innings, he had allowed nine hits, four walks and three runs (two earned), but the Brewers only trailed, 3-2. Khris Davis' two-run homer in the top of the fifth off lefty Mike Minor made it a one-run game.
Rightfielder Ryan Braun, who later homered, helped Peralta by throwing out Jason Heyward at the plate in the fourth inning. But catcher Martin Maldonado had a rare poor game behind the plate, committing a passed ball and throwing error to allow one run to score and aiding a later rally with an interference call.
"That was the first time I had a game like that this season," said Peralta, who fell to 4-3 with a 2.18 ERA.
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