Monday, April 12, 2010

Hoffman 'Embarrassed' By Blown Saves

A 3-3 homestand is not the best way to open a season, but the Milwaukee Brewers had just that. Included was a series loss over the weekend to a St. Louis team the Brewers have to play better against if they are to have a chance in the National League Central.

There were some good things that happened during the week. We saw a good start from Rickie Weeks, and rookie Alcides Escobar continues to show he belongs at this level. Ryan Braun didn't sock his first home run of the year until Sunday night, but he hit the ball well. Jim Edmonds and Corey Hart both started decently. Dave Bush and Randy Wolf have pitched okay.

Outside of that, not much good is going on. Jeff Suppan is returning to the rotation Wednesday, virtually guaranteeing a loss and a worn-out bullpen every fifth day. Carlos Gomez had four hits on Opening Day, and then turned back into Carlos Gomez. Prince Fielder can't seem to hit the ball, though you probably shouldn't worry about him slugging .318 for much longer.

Despite those concerns, the biggest worry on the team centers around future Hall of Fame closer Trevor Hoffman. The 42-year-old pitched like a spry youngster -- albeit one with no velocity -- last year, allowing just two home runs in 54 innings.

In four innings this season, he's allowed three.

Making matters worse, Hoffman has allowed six runs in those four innings, and he has thrown just one "clean" inning (no runs allowed) in his four appearances. The latest bad inning for Hoffman came Sunday, when he allowed back-to-back two-out home runs to Cardinal stars Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday to turn a 7-4 Brewers lead into a 7-7 tie.

Hoffman has a lethal changeup, but it doesn't work if people start figuring out his fastball, which barely hits 85 miles per hour.

Naturally, Pujols and Holliday both homered off fastballs that Hoffman failed to locate.

After the game, Hoffman was understandably upset.

“You throw 85 mph right over the plate and that’s usually what happens,” Hoffman said with a forced smile. “Not to be funny about it because it’s embarrassing.

“Honestly, it was a situation where you’re trying to pitch with a three-run lead. As easy as it might seem that they make home runs happen, they can easily make outs, too.

“You’ve got to locate pitches, regardless of what you’re throw. They’re good hitters. They’re going to make even good pitches look bad.”

So, where does Hoffman go from here?

“I don’t want to give clich├ęs but you’ve got to take things one pitch at a time from now on out and try to simplify and get the ball over,” he said.

“Just trust your routine. It’s been successful for a while up to this point. You’ve got to trust and believe it will get you out of this rut. You don’t want to be the weak link. I have to step it up.”

While none of this is good, it might not be time to push the panic button.

There are negatives, obviously. Hoffman is 42. He relies on pinpoint control and some deception. Basically, he's a pitcher and not a thrower. If his stratgery or his command are off the mark, he's screwed.

Right now, it appears his command isn't where it needs to be, especially on his "fastball."

(In Hoffman's defense, the pitch Nick Stavinoha hit out on Friday night was a good pitch. He hit it while practically on one knee as he forced himself to wait back on it. Nothing Hoffman could -- or should -- want back about that, outside of the result.)

But Hoffman understands pitching. He's accountable, as evidenced by his ability to talk candidly about Sunday's blown save, instead of throwing out a bunch of cliches about putting this behind him and saying something like "It is what it is," which drives fans nuts.

Hoffman knows he hasn't pitched well, and he appears determined to keep working and figure it out.

The 3-3 Brewers start a nine-game road trip Monday at Chicago, serving as the team that will ruin the Cubs' home opener at Wrigley Stadium.

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