Brewers’ Game 2 hopes against Dodgers rest with Brandon Woodruff and Josh Hader
Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell sounded like a guy who knows something the rest of us don’t.
His team had just lost to the Dodgers 4-2 in a National League playoff opener Wednesday night, the Brewers doomed by a brutal start in which left-hander Brent Suter walked five batters — two with the bases loaded — and gave up three runs in 1 2/3 innings.
Milwaukee entered the best-of-three series without two of its top three starters — ace Corbin Burnes lost to an oblique strain and left-hander Brett Anderson to a blister on his index finger — and one of baseball’s most dominant relievers, right-hander Devin Williams lost to a shoulder injury.
The eighth-seeded Brewers, already heavy underdogs to the top-seeded Dodgers, needed 6 1/3 innings from their bullpen in Game 1, including a season-high two innings from sidearm-throwing righty-hander Eric Yardley.
Walker Buehler’s Game 1 performance made it clear that questions about the Dodgers’ starting rotation will follow the team throughout the playoffs.
But there was something about having right-hander Brandon Woodruff to start and bullpen ace Josh Hader available for multiple innings in Game 2 on Thursday night that gave Counsell confidence, even with the Brewers one loss away from elimination and facing Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw, a three-time NL Cy Young Award winner.
“I think there’s a path for us here, even with the short start [in Game 1], to be strong in pitching for the next two games,” Counsell said. “But it’s going to take a great start from Brandon. That’s what he’s capable of doing, and if he does his thing, we’re going to be in good shape.”
Woodruff, 27, went 3-5 with a 3.05 ERA in 13 starts this season, striking out 91 and walking 18 in 73 2/3 innings, an average of 5 2/3 innings a start.
He’s given up eight earned runs and three homers in 7 2/3 innings of two regular-season games against the Dodgers, but he was dominant against them in the 2018 NL Championship Series, going 1-1 with a 1.93 ERA, striking out 17 and walking two in 9 1/3 innings.
A starter all season, the Dodgers’ Julio Urías came on in relief of Walker Buehler and tossed three scoreless innings in Game 1 of the wild-card series.
“He’s a big-game pitcher, one of our horses, one of our two aces, and we have all the confidence in the world in him,” Suter said. “He’s the best.”
He can’t be much worse than Suter was Wednesday night. Suter is known for his warp-speed-like pace — he’s starting his windup within a few seconds of receiving the ball from his catcher — but he spent much of his abbreviated start Wednesday trying to slow himself down, with no success.
Suter gave up a leadoff double to Mookie Betts in the first and walked four of the next six batters, including Will Smith and AJ Pollock with the bases loaded. He gave up back-to-back doubles to Chris Taylor and Betts to open the second and was pulled after walking Max Muncy with two outs.
The five walks among 14 batters he faced were as many as Suter issued in 31 2/3 innings and 129 batters faced all season. Of the 32 pitches he threw in the first inning, only nine were strikes.
The Dodgers are excited to begin the road to their first World Series in 32 years, even without fans in a weirdly quiet stadium against a mediocre opponent.
“There were nerves going on, and I was excited to be out there,” Suter said. “Then Mookie hits that leadoff double, I was thinking about him, and I think it took some focus off the plate. I missed some corners, and then all of a sudden it was a snowball effect.
“I was trying to breathe, trying to disengage, to do the normal routine to get back in sync, and I just couldn’t find it. There were a lot of bad misses. I gave them two runs right there [in the first inning]. I just felt terrible.”
And lonely. That’s how Suter described the feeling of being on the mound in a playoff game and being unable to find the strike zone.
Kenley Jansen completed a hitless ninth inning, but with subpar stuff and little command, a combination that won’t play as well deeper into October.
“It almost felt like the whole world was zooming in and I couldn’t make the adjustment,” Suter said. “It’s a hard game. There’s a lot of things that go into your delivery to get pitches to go where you want them, and some days you just can’t find it for a reason, and it makes for a long and miserable day.
“I threw two innings. It felt like I threw eight. I couldn’t believe how slow time was going by. It was not good. It was not fun. … But despite pitching about as bad as I’ve ever pitched, we still had a chance to win, so that was a cool feeling, to have my teammates pick us up.”
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