MILWAUKEE -- With Matt Garza on the disabled list, the Milwaukee Brewers cannot afford starts like this from Yovani Gallardo. But that is not chief among the current worries for a first-place club that has been sliding since the start of July.
If the Brewers don't get their late-inning relief squared away soon, the consequences are going to be obvious with less than two months remaining in an extremely tight divisional race.
Scoring early against Gallardo and late against the bullpen, the San Francisco Giants took a 7-4 victory Wednesday night at Miller Park. The defeat dropped the Brewers record since July 1 to 11-19, but they remained one game ahead of St. Louis, a 2-1 loser to Boston.
Pittsburgh pulled within 11/2 games with a 7-3 victory over Miami.
The bullpen was a strength over the first three months of the season but erosion and injuries have made that area worrisome. Left-handers Will Smith and Zach Duke were overworked, while Rule 5 draft pick Wei-Chung Wang was protected, right-handers Tyler Thornburg and Jim Henderson were lost to long-term injuries and others simply have underperformed.
General Manager Doug Melvin tried desperately to strike a deal for a late-inning reliever before the July 31 trade deadline without success and no one is stepping up in front of closer Francisco Rodriguez as a constant go-to guy. The result has forced manager Ron Roenicke to try a never-ending series of pitcher-hitter matchups with mixed results.
Pitching is what usually separates the men from the boys at this stage of the season, and the Brewers now have reasons for concern at both ends of games.
"We're losing some ball games late in innings," said Roenicke. "It's hard to keep going with guys who have thrown a lot this year. We do need to get (Brandon) Kintzler going, and (Tom) Gorzelanny has done a nice job for us (before surrendering a two-run homer in the eighth to Pablo Sandoval).
"Hopefully, it clicks with some of them and we get it going again."
Gallardo, who had not allowed a run in his previous two starts, showed up without his command this time around. He lasted only four innings, throwing just 47 of 90 pitches for strikes while allowing nine hits, four walks, four runs and two wild pitches.
It was another instance of the inconsistency that has plagued Gallardo since the beginning of last season. He entered the game with a string of 16 2/3 innings without allowing a run but struggled with his control from the outset, surrendering three runs in the first.
"Lately he's been pretty good, so I don't know what happened today," said Roenicke. "He really didn't have command over any of his pitches. He had been throwing the ball great, but I don't know what happened today. It was just a day he was off."
Giants starter Ryan Vogelsong had his issues as well but was the beneficiary of several hard-hit outs in holding the Brewers to one run on seven hits and a walk over six innings. The Brewers scored three runs off the usually stout San Francisco bullpen, but it was not enough to pull out the game.
"I liked the offense," said Roenicke. "I thought we did a real nice job. We squared up some balls that would have really been big for us if they fell in. We swung the bats well.
"I liked our at-bats. We did some good things offensively. Sometimes, it doesn't go your way."
Hunter Pence and Joe Panik got things going for the Giants in the first inning with singles off Gallardo before Buster Posey grounded into a force at second. Sandoval then sliced an opposite-field single to left to score Pence.
After a wild pitch moved up the runners, Gallardo struck out Brandon Belt to give himself a chance to escape with minimal damage. But Michael Morse punched a broken-bat single to center to send up both runners for a 3-0 lead.
A walk to Gregor Blanco and another wild pitch prompted the Brewers to intentionally walk No. 8 hitter Brandon Crawford. Vogelsong sent a bouncer up the middle to shortstop Jean Segura, who tried to outrace Crawford to the bag.
Umpire Eric Cooper called Crawford safe, but Vogelsong had stopped running and Segura threw to first to get the third out. The lesson there: Never stop running to first base.
Carlos Gomez got one of the runs back when he led off the bottom of the inning with a 438-foot rocket to left -- the seventh leadoff homer of his career and fifth this season.
Gallardo's struggles continued in the third with three more hits and another run for the Giants. Morse collected his third RBI with a two-out single before Gallardo whiffed Blanco to end the inning.
Afterward, Gallardo accurately described his performance in two words, saying, "It sucks."
"The past few starts I think everything was right in place," added Gallardo. "But you know what? That's how this game is. Sometimes there are certain things you can't explain.
"It's tough for the guys to come back after giving up three runs in the first inning. At that point you just want to not allow any more and try to get as deep as you can. I was battling the whole night."
The Brewers continued to exert pressure on Vogelsong, putting two more runners on with two down in the sixth. But he continued to escape with good fortune, as Segura hit a rocket to deep center that was hauled in by Blanco.
Vogelsong's luck finally ran out in the seventh when pinch-hitter Rickie Weeks and Gomez singled with no outs. Khris Davis batted for Gerardo Parra and flied out to deep right, with Weeks advancing.
With Gomez on the move, Ryan Braun bounced to shortstop Crawford, who came home to get Weeks. But, after a double steal by Gomez and Braun, Aramis Ramirez grounded a single through the left side to score both runners.
San Francisco, shut down for three innings by middle reliever Marco Estrada, came back with three runs in the eighth off relievers Kintzler and Gorzelanny. The big blow was the two-run homer by Sandoval off Gorzelanny, giving The Panda three RBI for the second straight game.
THE 600 CLUB
Ron Roencke managed his 600th game for the Brewers on Wednesday night, becoming the sixth to do so. The others: Phil Garner (1,180), Ned Yost (959), Tom Trebelhorn (819), George Bamberger (728) and Del Crandall (609).
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