BALTIMORE — Like Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta before him, Adrian Houser walked off the mound with the Brewers facing a deficit.
It’s early. Very early. And Houser didn’t pitch poorly in Monday’s 2-0 loss to the Orioles in the home opener at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. He surrendered only one run-scoring hit, may have been squeezed and received precisely zero run support in a loss that dropped the Brewers to 1-3, meaning they’ll have to win the remaining two games on this opening road trip to bring a .500 record into their own home opener Thursday.
All of those caveats considered, it’s not been the start to the season that Milwaukee envisioned for its vaunted starting rotation. Or its fortified offense, for that matter. Brewers hitters are 2-for-22 with runners in scoring position so far.
“It’s game four,” outfielder Hunter Renfroe said simply.
That’s true, and it may be the best reason not to worry about the early-season scuffles of the starting pitchers whom this team is built around. That continued Monday with Houser, who needed 76 pitches for 11 outs and walked as many batters — three — as he induced ground balls, uncharacteristic for a pitcher known to induce a heavy dose of grounders. Last season, Houser’s 59% ground ball rate was second in the league among pitchers who threw at least 140 innings.
He wasn’t alone in looking a little off in his season debut. After combining for a 2.76 ERA last season, Burnes, Woodruff, Peralta and Houser have been charged with 15 earned runs on 17 hits and 13 walks in their first 16 1/3 innings this season. That adds up to an 8.27 ERA.
“With the spring, there is usually the up and down, up and down with results,” said swingman Aaron Ashby, a bright spot for the Brewers with 3 1/3 innings of scoreless relief in his second appearance of 2022. “I think that’s kind of what we’re experiencing in the first part of our season. It’s just a little bit of up and down. I don’t think anybody is freaking out or anything.”
Last season, the Brewers’ starter walked three batters or more in 37 of 162 games. So far this season, Burnes, Woodruff, Peralta and Houser are a dubious four for four, with left-hander Eric Lauer still awaiting his first start when the series continues Tuesday. Overall this season, Brewers pitchers had the highest walk rate in the Majors at 15.1% as of the final out in Baltimore.
Houser and the Brewers have been clear that a short Spring Training is no excuse. Every team faced the same challenge.
“Maybe it’s the adrenaline part of it, getting back to full stadiums and stuff,” Houser said. “Our pitch counts are good. I think we’re in a good spot.”
A pair of two-out walks burned Houser in his season debut. After center fielder Tyrone Taylor sprinted back for Austin Hays’ rocket of a line drive for the second out of the second inning — Taylor’s second defensive gem in as many innings — Houser walked Jorge Mateo and Robinson Chirinos successively. Each of those plate appearances contained two-strike pitches right on the edge of the zone that were called balls by plate umpire Chad Fairchild.
With the bases loaded, Houser fell behind 2021 Silver Slugger Award winner Cedric Mullins and threw a 2-1 sinker that Mullins lined to center field for the game’s only runs.
“It all starts there, with command,” Houser said. “I didn’t establish the zone early. I wasn’t able to get ahead in the count early, and it just fell apart from there. I need to hammer down on that these next few days and get it going for the next start.”
Did he think he got squeezed on the walks preceding Mullins’ hit?
“I’ll let you guys decide on that one. Go back and look at it,” Houser said. “Yeah, some big pitches in a big spot.”
With Milwaukee scuffling to get the bats going with runners in scoring position, those were two big runs. The Brewers hit three home runs to beat the Cubs on Sunday at Wrigley Field but were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position Monday after going 1-for-10, 0-for-3 and 1-for-3 in their three games in Chicago. The Brewers have been shut out twice in their first four games.
“Today wasn’t a good day,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “It wasn’t a day we were unlucky. We didn’t hit balls hard and have them caught. We just didn’t square up baseballs today.”