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All through spring training, the Milwaukee Brewers' starting pitchers were bashed, battered, pounded, pummeled, raked and roughed up.

And that was just in the media.

As if in a chorus, skeptical reporters from near and far wondered how the Brewers were going to replace co-aces CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets with a rotation that consisted of talented-but-unproven youngsters Yovani Gallardo and Manny Parra and a trio of workaday veterans - Dave Bush, Jeff Suppan and Braden Looper - who had a combined record of 229-227 in the major leagues.

It was a legitimate question given that Sheets was the National League's best pitcher in the first half of the season and Sabathia was far and away the major leagues' best pitcher in the second half. Their combined 24-11 record in a mere 48 starts was the key to the Brewers' magical run to the playoffs.

With Sabathia and Sheets lost to free agency, the consensus was that a return to the playoffs would depend on general manager Doug Melvin's ability to pull off another bold in-season move, much like he did in acquiring Sabathia last year. Since all Melvin did during the off-season was sign Looper as a middling free agent and get Gallardo back from injury, it appeared the Brewers were one ace short of a contending rotation.

If the starting staff didn't stack up on paper, however, no one told the guys on the mound. So far anyway, Milwaukee's starters have quietly silenced their critics.

"I think our pitching has been pretty good as a whole, the starting pitching," first-year manager Ken Macha said earlier this week.

Indeed, it has. The starters haven't been dominant, but entering Wednesday's game Milwaukee was tied with Pittsburgh for the most quality starts (six innings pitched, three or fewer runs allowed) in the majors with 16. The Brewers are getting quality starts 59 percent of the time compared to 52 percent last year, when they won 90 games.

Some think quality starts is a bogus statistic because it doesn't set a very high threshold. But as the Brewers go through their rotation for the sixth time, the number of quality starts illustrates one strength of the team's no-name starting staff: It is keeping the Brewers in games.

"I think for the most part we've all been pretty consistent and given our team a chance to win," Bush said.

That's a big reason for the Brewers' climb from a 4-9 start to a 15-12 record. Keeping in mind that it is early, Gallardo has looked like the ace everyone hoped he would be, Bush and Looper have been solid almost every time out and Suppan has been up and down as usual. Only Parra has been a disappointment, and even he has pitched better recently as the Brewers try to get him to rely less on his fastball and more on his off-speed pitches.

Even though the starters were bombarded with questions all spring about picking up the slack, Bush said they didn't worry about it much because in their minds they were never trying to replace Sabathia and Sheets.

"We had two of the best pitchers in the game on our staff, so that's a situation that we weren't going to replicate no matter how hard we tried," Bush said. "I think the key for all of us is just to each be a little bit better than last year and (have) no one trying to replace the guys we lost. We have a pretty solid group of five guys. If we each just keep getting a little bit better each year and each start, then I think we'll be able to pick up the slack without too much trouble."

So far, that approach is working. The Brewers have allowed opposing batters to hit just .238, the second-best mark in the majors. The team's 4.17 ERA is 11th in the big leagues.

Slowly but surely, the starters are gaining people's confidence.

"I think we're a relatively confident group and each of us knows what we're trying to do out there and not trying to do too much," Bush said. "We're just trying to continue to be the pitchers that we are and not trying to be the guys we don't have anymore."

Maybe not, but so far they're doing a passable imitation.

Contact Tom Oates at or 608-252-6172.

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: May 8, 2009

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