MILWAUKEE — Relievers — and, really, bullpens in general — never quite seem to get the recognition they deserve when they deserve it most.
Sure, closers get all kinds of credit and accolades for locking down the final, tense outs of a close victory, but sometimes the biggest heroes take the ball in the lowest-leverage situations and the most important performances come in the most unpleasant of circumstances.
It’s exactly the situation that the Brewers found themselves in Friday night’s 10-1 loss to the Cardinals at American Family Field.
Starter Freddy Peralta lasted just three innings thanks to a bout of command issues, leaving Milwaukee’s relief corps to cover the final six frames against a Cardinals offense that had already racked up a 6-0 lead.
That’s a challenging task at any point but even more so just one week into season, not to mention the added wrinkle of a shortened Spring Training.
But just as the back end of Milwaukee’s bullpen has done on a regular basis over the last few years, the trio of relievers — José Ureña, Hoby Milner and Brent Suter — manager Craig Counsell called on Friday got the job done, and though the Brewers lost, Counsell will have all of his regular relievers fully rested and available behind starting right-hander Adrian Houser on Saturday.
“Those guys kept our bullpen in order for tomorrow, which is important,” Counsell said.
Ureña gave up a two-run homer to Cardinals second baseman Tommy Edman, but manage to cover three innings before handing things over to the lefty Milner, who allowed just a hit against one strikeout over two innings and has yet to give up a run in four outings so far this season.
“Hoby was efficient with his two innings,” Counsell said. “He pitched very well and he’s off to a nice start.”
Things didn’t go quite as well for Suter, who served up a two-run home run in the ninth inning to Nolan Arenado, but the left-hander did provide a much-needed laugh — though it did come as part of a momentary scare.
After Arenado’s homer made it a 10-1 game, Lars Nootbaar was seven pitches into what turned into a 10-pitch at-bat when he popped an 86 mph fastball towards the Cardinals’ dugout.
Suter chased it down, but his effort to make the play was thwarted by the railing and netting in front of the dugout, which stopped him dead in his tracks, sending him to the ground in what looked like a good deal of pain.
Suter, though, avoided serious injury and lobbied to stay in the game, even throwing a few warmup pitches before Counsell and the medical staff opted to pull him for a combination of “precautionary” reasons and the out-of-reach nature of the game.
“He hit the wall pretty hard and went down pretty fast, but he’s doing fine,” Counsell added.
Suter hadn’t seen the replay but was thankful that the situation wasn’t worse than it could have been.
“People were joking that every other time I go on the mound, something goofy happens,” Suter explained. “This was today’s adventure, but I’m very glad and very grateful to be OK because it could have been a lot, lot worse. Just trying to get that out and get the game over with, I really went after it and thought I could make the play. I had it in my glove.
My forearm took the brunt of something — either the padding or something. I think I slid under the railing into the net and then just spun out after that. I have [no issues] with my head or anything. I felt good and told them I was good to go but with the situation and everything, they took me out. I think I had the ball in my glove, but then the next thing I saw was [Albert] Pujols saying, ‘Just stay down, brother.’ He was the first guy I saw. The second guy I saw was Nolan [Arenado] and I just said, ‘Nice swing!’”
With Suter out, Counsell tasked infielder Mike Brosseau to record the game’s final outs.