Mota, Villanueva continue to contribute
Often idle relievers strive to be ready to go when needed
MILWAUKEE -- Brewers reliever Guillermo Mota notched a well-deserved win on Sunday. One of his teammates thought Mota also deserved a save.
"Mota bailed me out," fellow reliever Carlos Villanueva said.
Villanueva worked a scoreless 11th inning against the Pirates on Sunday but then surrendered a single and a pair of walks leading off the 12th to put the Brewers in a jam.
With only Mota and long man Seth McClung still available in the bullpen, manager Ned Yost turned to Mota and the move paid off. Mota retired Brandon Moss on a flyout to center field that froze the runners, struck out Chris Gomez and retired Luis Rivas on a groundout to set up the Brewers for a 4-3 win and a three-game series sweep.
"It doesn't surprise me because he's been dominating," Villanueva said. "I thought he had a chance because he throws so hard and because of the shadows. He went right after them."
The escape act preserved hot streaks for both Brewers relievers, who have been nonetheless searching for work since CC Sabathia arrived in a trade and the rest of Milwaukee's starting rotation started on a roll.
Over his last 12 appearances, Mota has a 0.77 ERA (one earned run in 11 2/3 innings) including eight scoreless outings. Villanueva surrendered a game-winning home run last week in Los Angeles, but nonetheless is 2-1 with a 2.09 ERA over his last 27 games.
With starters eating most of the innings, Mota and Villanueva have seen their workload almost vanish. Mota has pitched in seven of the Brewers' first 22 games in August. Villanueva has pitched just six times over that span.
"It was an issue at the beginning, but we're used to it now," said Villanueva, who began the season in the starting rotation before moving to the bullpen. "You have to use your side work, your flat-ground [throwing sessions], and be mentally focused.
"It definitely becomes more of a mental thing."
The Brewers have logged fewer relief innings than any team in the National League, but have been getting good results. Over their last 15 games before Sunday, Brewers relievers compiled a 1.93 ERA (eight earned runs in 37 1/3 innings) to lower their season ERA as a unit from 4.16 to 3.85.
Meanwhile, Brewers starters are 13-5 with a 2.88 ERA over their last 21 games entering Sunday, including 16 quality starts of at least six innings with three or fewer earned runs.
"The longer our starters go and as long as we're winning, it doesn't matter [whether relievers are getting consistent work]," Mota said. "You have to do what you can to keep sharp and wait for your chance. It's not like [manager Ned Yost] doesn't want to put us in the game. I've been doing this a long time, so I just wait for my turn."
Yost said he considered pulling starter Jeff Suppan before the start of the eighth inning on Saturday night just to reserve two innings for relievers. Instead, he sent Suppan back out, then replaced him with Brian Shouse after a leadoff double.
On Friday, the Brewers turned a 4-3 lead into a 10-3 advantage in the seventh inning while Eric Gagne warmed up in the bullpen. Gagne was hot and ready to go, so Yost used him in the game, despite the large lead.
"It's hard finding work for all of them," Yost said. "Sooner or later, it's going to come to a point where they're all going to get used, and they're going to be a lot stronger than most. ... These starters, what they're doing is phenomenal. You can't expect them to continue going seven, eight innings every time out. There's going to be a game or two here or there where we're going to use everybody [in the bullpen]. It's inevitable."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.