Baseball / Sports

Brewers bullpen falters as winning streak ends

It was one of those winnable games you hate to let get away, especially with the playoff race starting to heat up.

Things fell apart rather quickly in the sixth inning Wednesday afternoon as the Toronto Blue Jays rallied for five runs and pulled away to a 9-5 interleague victory at Miller Park that snapped the Milwaukee Brewers' five-game winning streak.

The loss reduced the first-place Brewers' lead in the NL Central to two games over St. Louis, pending the Cardinals' night game against Cincinnati.

The final score was not indicative of the position the Brewers were in to win the game and sweep the short two-game series. Rookie starter Jimmy Nelson was unable to hold leads of 2-0 and 3-2, and the bullpen had all kinds of issues behind him as the Blue Jays scored all of their runs from the fifth inning on.

The Brewers also had some late chances to get back in the game but were unable to come up with a big hit.

"In the sixth inning, we didn't make too many good pitches," manager Ron Roenicke said. "They did a pretty good job of hitting some pretty good pitches that (Zach) Duke threw. Before that we made some bad pitches and after that we did.

"We just didn't pitch that well today. Offensively, I thought it was a really good day."

The Brewers knew it would be challenging to score a lot of runs off knuckleballer R.A. Dickey but they kept the pressure on him, collecting eight hits and five runs over 5 2/3 innings. That would have been enough to win had rookie starter Jimmy Nelson been able to protect leads and the bullpen not let the game get away late.

Nelson had turned in five consecutive quality starts but couldn't stop the bleeding this time, allowing nine hits and four runs in 5 2/3 innings. The Brewers led, 2-0, after four innings and 3-2 entering the fateful sixth.

"That's not going to work," said Nelson, who fell to 2-4 with a 4.15 ERA. "That's not going to get it done. I need to do a better job second and third time through (the lineup). I need to mix my pitches up better and put guys away better.

"They put some good swings on some fastballs. I just have to either get them down more or I have to start mixing up my sequences more. No matter what lineup you face here, no matter what the teams' numbers are, they are here for a reason.

"The starter's job is to get them deep in the game and give them a chance to win. I wanted to complete that sixth inning, obviously. I felt like I didn't do my job there."

Nelson departed with a run in, a runner on second base and two down in the sixth. Lefty Zach Duke came in to face switch-hitters Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera, both of whom singled as Toronto took the lead. Right-hander Brandon Kintzler then took over and surrendered the big hit of the inning -- a three-run homer by Jose Bautista that made it 7-3.

Roenicke didn't think Duke's pitches were that bad but the reliever didn't think they were great, either. It has been a tough month of August for Duke, who has seen his ERA jump from 1.04 to 2.23.

"That's part of the game; that happens," Duke said. "At the same time, if I make a little better pitch to Reyes, 0-2, it's probably an out. It caught too much of the plate. Give him credit; he did a good job of battling there and Cabrera made a really good adjustment after the first pitch I threw to him.

"They're good. There's a reason they've hit well all year. They have a good approach; they swing the bats well. Those things happen. I had a couple of outings where I got out of my delivery a bit and the ball was coming out that well. But the last few, I've felt back to myself. They're not taking that great of swings off me."

The Brewers had hopes of a comeback after Carlos Gomez ripped a two-run homer in the bottom of the inning to make it a two-run game. But potential rallies in the seventh and eighth innings fizzled and the Blue Jays opened the game back up on Colby Rasmus' two-run homer in the ninth off Will Smith.

So, it became one of those "woulda, coulda, shoulda" games when pitchers made just enough bad pitches and clutch hitting was relatively absent (3-for-13 with runners in scoring position, nine runners left on base). With division rival Pittsburgh coming to town after a Thursday off day, the Brewers had no choice but to put this in the circular file and move on.

"You have to turn the page and put it in the past, and move on to the next one," Duke said. "You have to have a short memory in this game. We have so many guys here with experience; I feel we do a good job of that."

As for the upcoming series against Pittsburgh, Duke said, "Any time you're playing in the division, it's a big series. The Pirates are looking to rebound right now. We need to come out and do our thing and make sure we stay on top. This is where everybody wants to be. You want to be in contention when this time of year comes around. This makes it fun."

(c)2014 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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