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CLOSING TIME: BULLPEN BULLISH ON BATTERS


CLOSING TIME: BULLPEN BULLISH ON BATTERS
So much of the talk surrounding the Milwaukee Brewers this season has focused on their starting pitching.

From the preseason skepticism regarding whether they had enough to replace the losses of CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets to the encouraging start to the year, the Brewers' rotation has drawn plenty of attention. But how about the early returns from Milwaukee's bullpen?

Since closer Trevor Hoffman's return from the disabled list April 26, Brewers relievers have been quite effective. Overall, Milwaukee's bullpen has a 3.94 ERA after Wednesday night's 8-6 victory over the Florida Marlins at Miller Park, and the Brewers are 15-2 when leading after seven innings.

Take a look at the numbers since April 27 - when Hoffman made his first appearance of the season - though, and the ERA drops to 3.08, with 16 earned runs in 46 2 3 innings.

"We're just going out there and doing our jobs," right-hander Seth McClung said. "...We all just lean on each other and we've just been getting it done lately."

McClung is one of several relievers in the midst of a hot streak, having allowed one earned run over his last 9 1 3 innings. Carlos Villanueva, who battled through an up and down start to the season, has not allowed a run in his last six appearances.

Mark DiFelice has been tremendous all season long, while Mitch Stetter - the lone left-hander in the bullpen - has been dependable as well.

And Hoffman? All he had done was not allow a run in his first seven appearances while striking out eight and walking none.

Villanueva, DiFelice and Hoffman combined for three scoreless innings to close out Tuesday's 6-3 win over the Marlins.

Brewers manager Ken Macha was asked if he thought Hoffman, Baseball's all-time leader in saves with 560, would be this effective right away after missing the start of the season with a strained oblique.

"I think the whole rehab process was designed such that when he got done with it, he would be able to pitch at a high leve l," he said. "So we pretty much took our time getting him ready to pitch."

Macha pointed to the lack of walks handed out by his relievers as a key reason behind their recent run of success. Before Wednesday, they had issued just 10 - compared to 38 strikeouts - since Hoffman's return.

"Since Hoffman's been back, they've been real good. Throwing strikes is a big thing," Macha said. "... I think having Hoffman there gives you the ability to get guys into positions you think they can succeed (in), and they've been doing it. So that's helpful. The other thing that's been helpful is ... having almost everybody in that bullpen performing so that you can give everybody adequate rest."

Catching up

Backup catcher Mike Rivera (sprained ankle) went 2-for-5 with two RBIs in the final game of his three-game rehabilitation assignment at Class AAA Nashville. He was due to arrive back in Milwaukee Wednesday night, and Macha said Rivera would be evaluated by team trainers before today's game.

Should he pass that inspection, Rivera will start behind the plate with Dave Bush on the mound, with Carlos Corporan headed back to Nashville. And Macha was expecting to deal with complaints from starting catcher Jason Kendall , despite the fact he's started 13 straight games since Rivera was placed on disabled list April 29.

"A lot of people could use a day, so just relax when you get a day off," Macha said. "Enjoy yourself."

Gamel brought up

The Brewers announced after Wednesday's game they will recall third baseman Mat Gamel, one of the organization's top prospects, from Nashville today. Outfielder Brad Nelson, who didn't get a hit in 21 at-bats, was assigned outright to Nashville.

Macha said the plan is to get Gamel, who was hitting .336 with eight home runs and 31 RBIs, some pinch-hitting opportunities, and with an interleague series against the Twins next weekend, he could also serve as a designated hitter.

"We'll just see how things unravel," Macha said. "This kid's probably our best prospect, so I don't think the plan's to have him sitting on the bench, either."


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: May 15, 2009

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