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Brewers reliever Jeremy Jeffress runs out of luck

Brewers reliever Jeremy Jeffress runs out of luck
Milwaukee Brewers reliever Jeremy Jeffress pitches in the seventh inning of Game 2 of the National League Championship Series at Miller Park on Saturday. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

There is no crisis of confidence, at least not at the locker of Jeremy Jeffress.

Jeffress was the guy who walked Austin Barnes with the bases loaded.

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“He just got lucky,” Jeffress said.

Jeffress was the guy who gave up the game-winning home run to Justin Turner.

“He got lucky,” Jeffress said.

Two games make for a ridiculously small sample size, but the first two games of the National League Championship Series also have made a mockery of the conventional wisdom.

The Dodgers had better rough up the Milwaukee starters, or so the wisdom went, because the Brewers bullpen is exceptional.

The Brewers excused their starter after two innings of Game 1, by design. They removed their starter in the sixth inning in Game 2, with a shutout intact, again by design.

And the Brewers are damn — searching for just the right word here — lucky to be even with the Dodgers in this series.

The Brewers had a five-run lead in Game 1, with six outs to go, and their bullpen gave back four runs. The Brewers had a three-run lead in Game 2, with nine outs to go, and their bullpen gave up four runs.

“I wouldn’t say they gave it away,” said Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich, the presumptive NL most valuable player. “I think the other team earned it.”

That was not the opinion of Jeffress, an All-Star. He has pitched in five of the Brewers’ six postseason games, getting 14 outs and giving up 11 hits.

In September, he got 32 outs and gave up three hits.

“I feel good, man,” he said. “That’s the nature of the game. I can’t strike everybody out. I can’t make everybody hit a ground ball. I am human.”

He entertained the thought that a fix or two might be in order, but he did not entertain the thought for long.

“I’ve been doing it all year,” he said. “There’s nothing that I need to change, honestly.”

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Jeffress is one of five members of this allegedly invincible bullpen to have given up a run in the first two games. The Brewers’ earned-run average: 1.17 for the starters, 6.96 for the relievers.

The latter figure would balloon to 9.82 if not for Josh Hader, whom the Brewers held out of Saturday’s game because they used him for three innings Friday.

“They made clear I was unavailable,” Hader said.

Could he have given the Brewers an inning Saturday?

“I’m sure I could,” he said. “Adrenaline can do a lot of things.”

In Game 1, the Brewers started a left-hander, followed with a right-hander, then deployed the left-handed Hader. In Game 2, with the Brewers starting a left-hander and Hader not available, the Dodgers did not have to be cautious with their substitutions. They could, and did, platoon to their heart’s delight.

“There was just no cost to what has now been called a line change for our roster,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu talks about his struggles in NLCS Game 2.

There could have been a significant cost had the game gone to extra innings, since the Dodgers ran out of position players by the seventh inning.

But the Brewers were the ones that had to pay, with the Dodgers getting quite a few good looks at the relievers that have gotten 31 of Milwaukee’s 54 outs.

“Everybody knows it’s a good bullpen,” outfielder Yasiel Puig said. “But yesterday their bullpen threw too much. They finally won the game, and today, the game was payback to us, because the bullpen was not that great like yesterday.”

In the first round, the Brewers talked about how they could lean on the bullpen because they had started the series after three days off, and they would not play more than two consecutive days without a day off.

In this round, the Brewers play three consecutive days, starting Monday. Hader will be available then, at least for one day, but the concept of the Brewers running out Jeffress and Corey Knebel every day of this series leans toward the extreme.

And they won’t want to keep running out Jeffress if the Dodgers keep denting him. He faced six batters Saturday. Four reached base, including Barnes on that bases-loaded walk, forcing in the Dodgers’ second run, Chris Taylor on a soft single and Turner with that game-winning home run, on a ball that Jeffress threw higher than he had intended.

“Lucky,” Jeffress said. “Bottom line. Lucky.

“If I’m going to give up a hit, I’m going to give up one like that. If they hit a home run and it’s just something that’s left up? You can’t take nothing away from those guys over there. They’re professionals, like everybody else. But, like I said, just make a pitch. That’s all I’ve got to do.”

Wait, was that Taylor with the lucky hit, or Turner with the lucky hit, or both?

“Dude, honestly, you’ve seen the hits,” Jeffress said. “I ain’t got to tell nobody, man. If I say it’s lucky, it’s lucky.”

Luck is the residue of design. The Brewers did not design their bullpen to leave this much residue.

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