Brewers can't get offense going
Timely hits missing in Suppan's debut for Milwaukee
MILWAUKEE -- Somebody must have forgotten to remind Brewers hitters that it's now OK to score when Jeff Suppan is on the mound at Miller Park.
The career Brewers-killer signed a club-record contract with Milwaukee on Christmas Eve and made his regular-season debut on Wednesday, pitching seven solid innings but taking his first career loss at Miller Park in any uniform, 5-4 to the Dodgers in front of 23,649 fans.
Suppan scattered seven hits and three walks to limit the Dodgers to two runs, and Milwaukee had plenty of chances to get him a lead. But Johnny Estrada was stranded at second base after an RBI double in the fourth inning, and the Brewers left at least one runner in scoring position in every inning the rest of the way.
"We let some big scoring opportunities get away," manager Ned Yost said.
Three stood out.
Nursing a 2-1 lead, Dodgers starter Jason Schmidt (1-0) had issued three consecutive two-out walks in the fifth inning before Prince Fielder popped out. In the seventh, Rickie Weeks hit a one-out triple but then broke on contact when J.J. Hardy hit a sharp grounder to shortstop and was thrown out at home plate. After Hardy's solo home run leading off the ninth made it a one-run game again, Prince Fielder followed with a double but Bill Hall was unable to move Fielder to third, where he could have scored in any number of ways. Hall struck out, and Estrada flied out to end the game.
The Brewers were 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position and stranded 11 men on base.
"You're not going to be 100 percent in those situations, but you sure want to take advantage of them," Yost said. "Especially in tight ballgames like today, they mean the difference between winning and losing."
Estrada had three hits for his third straight game in a Brewers uniform, and Geoff Jenkins went 3-for-4. But along with those missed offensive opportunities went Suppan's chance to preserve his perfect 5-0 record in seven previous starts at Miller Park.
Still, it was a solid debut.
"There's always nervous anticipation for anything you do for the first time," said Suppan, whose contract guarantees $42 million over at least four years and makes him the best-paid Brewers player ever. "If you are able to channel those nerves into a positive, that's the key. I enjoy having that nervous energy. I think it's part of the game."
Suppan got off to a slow start before finding his groove. He slogged through the first three innings on 63 pitches, 33 strikes, and started 10 of the 16 hitters he faced with a ball. The Dodgers got to Suppan in the third, getting back-to-back singles leading off the frame from Juan Pierre and Russell Martin, then a sacrifice fly from Nomar Garciaparra and an RBI double from Jeff Kent.
But Suppan suddenly found the strike zone. He threw only 27 pitches over his next four innings of work, 21 of them strikes, and started 13 of the 14 hitters he faced with a strike. Suppan worked a 1-2-3 fifth inning, retiring the Dodgers' 2-3-4 hitters, on three pitches.
"It's unusual to have that few pitches, but that's what he's made of," Brewers pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "He went out there and it looked like a 'struggle game' from the start, and it turns out to be seven innings of two runs. That's pretty good."
It was so good, Yost turned to Maddux in the middle innings and said Suppan reminded him of Maddux's Hall of Fame-bound brother, Greg.
"Just carving hitters up," Yost said. "Never giving in. That's what he was doing, boy."
L.A. pulled away with three runs in the eighth inning charged to Brewers reliever Carlos Villanueva, who walked all three hitters he faced. Elmer Dessens came on in relief and surrendered a pinch-hit double to Olmedo Saenz, followed by a sacrifice fly that gave the Dodgers a 5-1 lead.
"I don't know if it was first-time jitters or adapting to the role. We'll find out," Yost said of the 23-year-old Villanueva. "That's not characteristic of him."
Said Villanueva: "I was not aggressive enough, not pitching to contact enough. All of them were 3-and-2 walks. That tells you I was nibbling. I don't have an excuse."
Dodgers right-hander Takashi Saito surrendered three hits and a run over 1 2/3 innings but earned the save. Schmidt got the win after allowing a run on three hits in five innings.
"You have to give credit to that closer," Estrada said. "He gave up some runs, but he shut down the rallies."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.