Brewers patient with struggling bullpen
Villanueva the closer, but roles undefined for other hurlers
MILWAUKEE -- Ken Macha has no quick fix for his team's early-season bullpen struggles.Brewers relievers entered Sunday night's series finale against the Cubs with a 5.94 aggregate ERA, 22nd of the 30 Major League teams, and their three blown saves tied Braves pitchers for most in the big leagues. Only one of those blown saves actually occurred in the ninth inning, and that came Saturday, when Carlos Villanueva surrendered a two-run home run to the Cubs' Alfonso Soriano in a 6-5 Brewers loss. It was one of five home runs surrendered by a Milwaukee reliever in the team's first 16 2/3 innings. "What I'm looking forward to, and it's going to be on down the road, is we'll get Trevor [Hoffman] back and get some more order in the bullpen," said Macha, referring to the injured Brewers closer. "That's my main concern. The starting pitching, I'm not too worried about that. I think [the starters] will be fine." Carlos Villanueva will continue to close while Hoffman nurses a rib-cage injury, Macha said. Any concern that the manager may have had about Saturday's letdown having a carryover effect into Sunday was alleviated early Sunday afternoon. "He came up to me in the hall and said, 'I'm ready to go today,'" Macha said. "So if we get the lead in the ninth and we need him, he'll be in there. He did some bouncing back after some tough outings in Arizona. You never know. It's a different animal now." Villanueva is the closer, but the rest of the roles remain murky. Macha met with the relievers in San Francisco and was asked about when he would assign roles. Macha's response: He doesn't plan to. "Guys who pitch well are going to pitch more, and they kind of know that now," Macha said. The reliever pitching the best at the moment is right-handed sinkerballer Todd Coffey, who pitched one-third of an inning on Saturday night in his third scoreless appearance this season. Coffey has not allowed a run in any of his 12 appearances since joining the Brewers last September. (The streak inspired Brewers PR boss Mike Vassallo to pen the headline of the year in the team's media notes: Coffey tossing donuts.) On the other end of the spectrum is right-hander David Riske, who surrendered at least one run in nine of his 11 Spring Training appearances and then allowed two runs on four hits in his regular-season debut on Thursday in San Francisco. "That's a concern," Macha said. "Spring Training wasn't good for him. He needs the sinker to start sinking. We're hoping he gets his form back." But Macha is staying patient, and so is general manager Doug Melvin. It would take an injury for the team to consider making any personnel moves, Melvin said. "I don't like looking at a game or a series," Melvin said after his team pitched poorly in its season-opening series against the Giants. "I look at segments of 7-10 games. ... It will take a little bit of time, but I do like the pitching staff. In Spring Training, we know how hard it is to pitch in Arizona, and we gave up the second-fewest runs [of Cactus League teams] in Spring Training. Only the Angels gave up fewer runs than us. So I don't think this is an indicator of how our pitching will be."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.