PHILADELPHIA — Eric Lauer turned in not only the best start of his five-year career on Sunday night, but it was one of the best outings in the Majors so far this year — and one of the best by a Brewers pitcher ever.
The left-hander racked up a career-high 13 strikeouts over six scoreless innings in a 1-0 win against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Though Lauer settled for a no-decision since the game remained scoreless until Christian Yelich’s sacrifice fly in the top of the ninth, he was undoubtedly the key to Milwaukee leaving Philadelphia with a series victory.
“This is the kind of show Eric Lauer can put on,” manager Craig Counsell said. “Against a good-hitting team, he showed everybody how good he’s been pitching the last four months of baseball. He pitched great.”
The 13 strikeouts are tied with three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw for the most by any pitcher in an outing this season. They’re also easily a career high for Lauer, who had never had a double-digit strikeout game in the big leagues.
In fact, even in the Minors, Lauer’s highest strikeout total was 12 — and that came last season in his only start for Triple-A Nashville after he was briefly sent down just to stay fresh in the midst of Milwaukee playing a stretch with some extra off-days.
Thus, to find Lauer’s last 13-strikeout game, you need to go back to his collegiate days at Kent State when he turned in what many might figure was the best outing of his life. Needing one more win to clinch the Mid-American Conference regular-season title, Lauer struck out 13 Bowling Green batters as part of a no-hitter in which the only baserunner he allowed reached via error.
“I would probably put this start a little bit above that one, just because that’s not the big leagues,” Lauer said with a smile. “Overall, it was a great start. I love going out there and being able to punch guys. I usually don’t do that, so it’s a very good feeling knowing that, ‘OK, maybe things are starting to come along — the fruits of my labor are starting to show a little bit.’”
While Sunday’s outing was certainly a gem in its own right, it wasn’t quite as smooth as the no-hitter thanks to a bit of fifth-inning turbulence. Lauer loaded the bases with only one out for the top of the Phillies’ order, but he managed to escape by forcing Jean Segura to pop out in foul territory before getting Rhys Hoskins to swing through a 95 mph fastball over the middle of the plate.
That fastball was the key for Lauer, who forced 11 whiffs with his heater. Only Carlos Rodón (17 on April 20) and Hunter Greene (13 on April 16) have recorded more swings and misses with their fastball in a start this season. Rodón topped out at 97.4 mph in that outing and Greene clocked in as fast as 102 mph, while Lauer’s fastest pitch on Sunday was 95.8 mph.
“He just puts it where he puts it – up in the zone,” Counsell said. “It’s got life up in the zone and it feels like it takes off. He sprinkled in the cutter, the slider and the curveball enough to make the hitter honor it and that makes the fastball even better.”
As for his place in franchise history, Lauer became just the third Brewers pitcher to strike out at least 13 batters and walk no more than one in a scoreless performance, joining Corbin Burnes (three times last season) and Mike Fiers (Aug. 14, 2014).
Though many on the national stage were seeing Lauer’s dominance for the first time, this is nothing new for the Brewers. The southpaw has a 2.23 ERA over his last 18 outings dating to June 27 and he’s allowed three earned runs or fewer in all but one of those appearances.
“You pitch on a staff with a guy who wins a Cy Young [in Burnes] and a guy in Brandon Woodruff who’s consistently been a top-10 starter in the league for a while now, it’s hard to get recognition,” Counsell said. “You have to really pitch well to do it. And [Lauer’s] pitching well enough to do it.”