The scoreboard read sixth inning, but it was a closer-type situation. Bases loaded, nobody out, the Milwaukee Brewers clinging to a 2-1 lead over the Miami Marlins.
Enter Jeremy Jeffress.
The right-hander came in and did what he’s done all season long — shut the opponent down. Bullpen mates Matt Albers and Josh Hader followed Jeffress’s lead, and in the end the Brewers had put the wraps on an impressive home stand with a 4-2 victory at Miller Park.
“Today’s sixth inning by J.J. was absolutely incredible. You can’t do any better than that,” manager Craig Counsell said. “We make a big deal about the ninth inning but that was the game right there.
“He delivered. He delivered big-time.”
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Just two seasons ago Jeffress was serving as the team’s traditional closer, racking up 27 saves before being dealt away to the Texas Rangers in a deadline-day deal. Re-acquired from the Rangers last season, Jeffress now serves as the Brewers’ middle-innings dominator — a role he’s relishing.
“Those are those big outs. Those are the things we live for,” Jeffress said. “Definitely the things I live for. I can be myself in those situations. I can be who I am.”
After his latest superlative outing on Sunday, the 30-year-old is tied for the major-league lead in appearances with 13 while sporting both a 0.71 earned-run average and WHIP. He’s struck out 11 in 12 2/3 innings and limited opposing batters to a .167 average while compiling a 2-0 record.
He’s pitched as early as the fifth inning and as late as the 11th, and after his latest escape job on Sunday he’s allowed just one of 10 inherited runners to score.
It’s the kind of performance that helps set the tone for a bullpen that’s been a strength of the Brewers despite not having closer Corey Knebel for all but the first week of the season.
It’s also the type of selflessness that isn’t often seen, with an established reliever simply wanting to fill whatever role helps the team most — and excelling at it.
“(Bench coach Pat Murphy) has talked about it for a bunch of years. We have a pitcher who thrives in that situation,” Counsell said. “His talents are kind of well-suited for it. He’s done it a bunch this year and he’s done it in close games and big spots.
“It’s such a big momentum moment in the game. It changes who the other team is going to pitch based on what happens that inning and what relievers you’re going to face from the other team. It’s a big moment in the game and he’s won that moment of the game a whole bunch for us this year.”
On Sunday, the Brewers were nursing a 2-1 lead behind five solid innings from Junior Guerra (2-0) when the Marlins finally started stringing some offense together against the right-hander.
J.T. Realmuto singled to right field. Starlin Castro singled to center. Justin Bour walked. And just like that, Miami had loaded the bases with a chance to take the lead.
Enter Jeffress, who needed just four pitches to strike out Brian Anderson. J.B. Shuck, up next, fouled out two pitches later. That brought up Jeffress’s former Brewers teammate, Lewis Brinson, who already had three homers to his credit to that point in the series.
Jeffress quickly got ahead of Brinson, then on a 2-2 count got him swinging on a curveball. Jeffress bounded off the mound with a howl and a big fist pump, earning a huge reaction from the crowd of 37,015.
A ground-ball double play would have been ideal to start, Jeffress said, even if it meant the tying run scored. Instead, he was able to get Anderson swinging and then worked his way through Shuck and Brinson to hand the ball to Albers with the lead still intact.
“For J.J., the ground ball is in his arsenal, so he’s one pitch away from being out of the inning. And in a one-run game like that, he’s one pitch away from us being able to keep the lead,” Counsell said. “The first out, no question, is the biggest out.
“Bases loaded with nobody out is a difficult situation to bring anybody into. It’s not ideal and it’s not something I generally like today. But it was the right move today, especially with the way J.J. has been throwing the baseball and he did a fabulous job.”
Albers, one of three Brewers to have registered a save with Knebel on the shelf, followed Jeffress by striking out two in a 1-2-3 seventh.
Then it was Hader’s turn. He caused himself some trouble early by walking Realmuto to start the eighth, and he eventually came around to score after a passed ball and a single to right by Bour.
That cut Milwaukee’s lead to 3-2, but Hader kept it there and Jesús Aguilar stayed hot by driving in a big insurance run with a two-out RBI single in the bottom half of the frame.
Hader struck out the first two batters in the ninth, then ended the game with a flyout to earn his third save of the season. All have been two innings, making him the first Brewers reliever since Mike DeJean in 2002 to accomplish the feat.
“This is definitely a fun little thing going on,” Hader said of his two-inning stints. “It’s always nice to get outs and it’s always nice to finish with a win and high fives and all that. It’s a different role, but it’s a good one for me.”
After being crushed by the Cincinnati Reds in the first game of the home stand, 10-4, the Brewers posted three shutouts en route to their current six-game winning streak.
The bullpen is as big a reason as any for the success, with a current 21 2/3-inning scoreless streak in tow as Milwaukee enjoys an off-day Monday before opening its next road trip with two interleague games in Kansas City.
Brewer relievers have allowed only six hits and four walks versus 28 strikeouts over that span.
“We’re really good,” Hader said. “We’re aggressive and we attack hitters and we get outs. I don’t have a word, but we definitely come in and get the job done.”
The Milwaukee Brewers got some more good news on the injury front on Sunday.
Orlando Arcia missed his second consecutive game with a jammed right ankle as the Brewers concluded their home stand against the Miami Marlins at Miller Park. But based on the way he felt after a pre-game workout, the shortstop could be back sooner than later.
“Thankfully it didn’t bother me running bases or fielding ground balls,” Arcia said through translator Carlos Brizuela. “If I don’t play today I’m pretty sure I’ll be 100% by Tuesday.”
The Brewers are off Monday and then open a two-game interleague series in Kansas City, so Arcia also will have an additional day of rest.
Considering how serious the injury appeared on Friday – he had to be helped off the field and was putting little to no pressure on his leg – Arcia said he feels fortunate.
“Thank God everything came out well,” he said.
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Eric Sogard made his second straight start in Arcia’s stead at shortstop.
Catcher Manny Piña also appears to be on the cusp of returning from his right-calf strain. He’s eligible to be reinstated from the disabled list on Monday.
“He had a pretty big test on Friday and he’ll run one last time today, but all signs are pointing good for him,” manager Craig Counsell said. “I’d say he’s definitely possible for Tuesday.”
Down on the farm: Class AA Biloxi outfielder Trent Grisham, the Brewers’ first-round pick in 2015, is expected to be out for 4-6 weeks with a high right-ankle sprain he suffered earlier in the week.
“He actually did it when he was squaring to bunt,” Flanagan said. “He had a pitch in, right at his head, and he had to bail out. It was such a rough position that the pitch was coming in, and he kind of tipped over backwards and his foot got caught under him.”
Grisham was hitting .194 with one home run and three runs batted in over his first 12 games with the Shuckers. Clint Coulter, Milwaukee’s top pick in 2012, was transferred from Class A Carolina to take Grisham’s place.
Also, Wade Miley made his second injury rehab start for the Shuckers on Sunday, throwing 63 pitches over three innings. He allowed six hits – including three homers – and four runs while striking out one.
The expectation is Miley will make one final rehab start for Biloxi of around 90 pitches, with the Brewers then deciding whether to insert him into their rotation.
Upon further review: There was still plenty of discussion on Sunday morning about the epic at-bat turned in by Jesús Aguilar the night before.
Aguilar came off the bench in the bottom of the ninth and fell behind in the count, 0-2, before blasting a walk-off home run to right-center to beat the Miami Marlins, 6-5.
The at-bat spanned 13 pitches and took over 7 minutes in real time
“(Junichi) Tazawa made very good pitches. I think that’s what probably impressed me the most,” Counsell said. “He made incredible pitches that somehow Jesús got his bat on and fouled off.
“I think we were expecting Jesús to put the ball in play, and you’re in such a battle mode and just trying to put the ball in play, then he hits the ball 400 feet over the fence. That was the next kind of shock to the whole thing.
“It tells us how strong Jesús is, to be in that battle mode and still hit a ball that far. It’s a pretty big statement about his ability. It was one of those at-bats where the highlights don’t do it justice.
“You have to watch the whole at-bat to really appreciate how it builds up to that point. I think that’s the beautiful thing about the game and about that at-bat.”
Counsell noted that long at-bats like Aguilar’s eventually devolve into a mental test of wills.
“I think Jesús had gotten to the point where he felt like he was going to make contact after that many foul balls,” Counsell said. “I think the pitcher and the catcher at that point are like, ‘What do we call? What haven’t we called? What could we possibly get by him?’
“You get above 10 pitches, you’ve frustrated the pitcher a little bit, and the catcher’s thinking about what’s next, what are we going to do?”
San Francisco’s Brandon Belt followed up Aguilar with a major-league record 21-pitch at-bat on Sunday that saw Belt foul off 16 consecutive two-strike pitches before finally flying out.
Santana is not in the lineup Sunday against the Marlins.
In what is materializing into a bit of a trend, Santana will be positioned on the bench for the third consecutive game as the Brewers deploy an outfield unit of Ryan Braun, Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich from left to right. Braun was previously seeing time at first base against lefties, but with reserve first baseman Jesus Aguilar swinging a hot bat (.419 average), the former MVP has been cutting directly into Santana’s outfield playing time of late. Santana — who is hitting just .222 this year — experienced a similarly slow start in 2017 before picking things up beginning in May. The right fielder’s playing-time woes are undoubtedly a concern for fantasy owners, but his upside is such that he’s likely worth hanging on to with the hope he gets over his slow start sooner than later.
Shortstop Orlando Arcia was upbeat Saturday about how his right ankle felt after he sprained it during the game Friday night, but the Milwaukee Brewers’ bosses were being cautious about his status.
“It’s a good sign (that he feels better),” manager Craig Counsell said. “We’ll stay away from him today and then reassess him on a daily basis. The off-day (Monday) is obviously important.
“I don’t think we’re completely out of the woods with it, but we’ll give him at least today and see how we’re doing going into that off-day. He’s not playing today, so that means we’ve got an injured player. We’re going to give it a day or two and see how he progresses to see if he’s going to be ready for the Kansas City series.”
The Brewers open a two-game series in Kansas City on Tuesday after the day off, the start of a nine-game trip that includes four games in Chicago against the Cubs and three in Cincinnati. General manager David Stearns confirmed that the team would have to feel Arcia could play against the Royals to keep him on the active roster.
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“We’re hoping it’s not going to be a DL situation but we’ll wait until Monday and see how he’s doing,” Stearns said.
Arcia jammed his right ankle into the bag at first base in the eighth inning of the game against Miami when catcher J.T. Realmuto threw behind him after a base hit. It’s the same ankle Arcia fractured during an extended spring training game in April 2012, forcing him to miss that entire season, so at first he had real concern.
“I’d broken that foot in the past, so it could be worse,” Arcia said through translator Carlos Brizuela. “I just hope I can recover quick.”
Eric Sogard started in Arcia’s place at shortstop Saturday night.
Others making progress: There was encouraging news on the injury front with other players, including a surprising development with closer Corey Knebel, who threw his first bullpen session 16 days after suffering a severe hamstring strain pitching against the Cubs.
The initial prognosis for Knebel was an absence of four to six weeks and now he has a chance to come in on the low end of that period, though Counsell made it clear the team would be deliberate at this phase of the rehab process.
“Corey is ready to go up on a mound probably faster than we thought,” Counsell said. “He will throw more bullpens because this is how the injury happened (pitching). So, we’ll go a little slower in this segment of it.”
Reliever Boone Logan, who began the year on the disabled list after suffering a triceps strain in camp, also had an encouraging bullpen session, his second during the rehab process. The plan is for Logan to throw in simulated action Tuesday in Kansas City, then head out on minor-league rehab assignment if that goes well.
“I’ll probably have to pitch three or four (times in the minors),” Logan said. “They’ll want me to go back-to-back (appearances) before activating me. Hopefully, I’ll be back that first week in May.”
Catcher Stephen Vogt continues to make progress in his rehab from a shoulder strain that also landed him on the DL to start the season. Vogt is throwing from longer distances without discomfort and should be ready to make throws from behind the plate soon.
“He’s got a big week, next week,” Counsell said. “I think he can move pretty quick next week. Then, it’s possible we start another phase of this. As we get on the road, we can get to another phase of it.”
Catcher Manny Piña, on the DL with a calf strain, is the closest to being activated. He is eligible to come off the DL on Monday and will give the leg another stiff test Sunday by running the bases at full-go.
“Manny’s doing pretty well,” Stearns said. “He has the potential to be activated on Tuesday.”
Left-hander Wade Miley, who was on the verge of making the starting rotation before suffering a groin strain near the end of camp, will make his second minor-league rehab start Sunday for Class AA Biloxi. Stearns said Miley would make one more appearance after that before it becomes time to decide whether to add him to the Brewers’ roster. If not, the agreement is that Miley can become a free agent.
“We want to get him to the 85-90 pitch mark,” Stearns said. “He would pitch again next Friday. We want to get Wade healthy and pitching well, and he wants to be healthy and pitching well. Everyone’s incentives are aligned here. Let’s get to the point where there are decisions to be made.”
Braun went 2-for-5 with a two-run home run and two runs scored in the win over Miami on Friday.
Braun got his fifth home run of the year in the fourth inning, a two-run shot off Marlins starter Trevor Richards. Later in the game, he came around to score on a single by Orlando Arcia. This was Braun’s third two-hit game of the season, and his batting average is now at .230 after having spent most of the year at or below .200. It’s a congested outfield in Milwaukee, but Braun has made it into 18 of 21 games for 65 plate appearances. So far he’s outperforming his lead rival, Domingo Santana, who’s hitting .222 with no home runs and three RBI in 19 games, for playing time.