Bad early reviewsCHICAGO — Eric Gagne’s first try did not go so well.
By: By ANTHONY WITRADO/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The Daily Telegram
CHICAGO — Eric Gagne’s first try did not go so well.
The Milwaukee Brewers’ bullpen is considered a strength, unlike a season ago. It has a capable, durable long reliever in Seth McClung, a lefty specialist in Brian Shouse and a group of strong set-up men in Guillermo Mota, David Riske, Salomon Torres and Derrick Turnbow.
The team also thinks it has a stopper in Gagne, a man who reined in a one-year, $10 million contract from the club despite recent injuries and not-so-stellar performances, just before being named in the Mitchell Report.
There wasn’t much return on the investment Monday when Gagne blew a three-run lead in his first save opportunity as a Brewer. The team rallied in the 10th inning for a 4-3, opening day victory against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, but it was an ugly beginning for Gagne, who nevertheless got the victory as the pitcher of record when the Brewers took the lead.
Manager Ned Yost played down Gagne’s troubles, probably because it was the first game and the Brewers pulled out a victory anyway.
“Gagne sputtered a little,” Yost said. “But things like that happen.”
No one got to hear what Gagne had to say about it because the seven-year veteran left the clubhouse before any reporters could catch him.
The Cubs’ new high-profile closer, Kerry Wood, also allowed three runs in the top of the ninth to set up Gagne’s first save chance. Ryan Braun’s run-scoring single and Corey Hart’s two-run double built the Brewers’ lead, but it didn’t seem secure for even a batter.
Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee singled to start the bottom of the ninth, and cleanup hitter Aramis Ramirez drew a four-pitch walk behind him, setting the stage for Japanese rookie rightfielder Kosuke Fukudome.
Gagne fell behind, 3-0, before throwing a strike to Fukudome. His next pitch was a fastball that caught the plate and rose into the hitting zone.
Fukudome hammered it to right-center field and into the bleachers to tie the score.
Gagne would give up another single to Felix Pie before the inning ended.
“His stuff was there,” catcher Jason Kendall said. “It wasn’t that. He hit 94 (mph) with his first pitch. He just got that fastball up, but he was fine.”
Gagne was bothered by the muddiness of the mounds in the bullpen and game. While warming up in the bullpen, he had someone come out and throw Diamond Dry on the mound to give him better traction.
While he was in the game, he kept clicking his heels to knock the mud loose from his cleats, something Kendall and bullpen coach Billy Castro noticed.
“It looked like he couldn’t get his footing,” Castro said. “He was throwing pretty good in the bullpen, but he couldn’t get his footing down there.”
The rest of the Brewers’ bullpen was fine, however.
Torres relieved starter Ben Sheets in the seventh inning with Fukudome on first. Torres hit Mark DeRosa to put two on, but a pitch in the dirt hung up Fukudome between second and third and Kendall ran him down for the second out. Torres walked Geovany Soto before getting a ground ball to end the inning.
Mota pitched a perfect eighth, striking out two, before handing the ball to Gagne.
Riske saved the game with a perfect 10th, getting the call over Turnbow because Yost liked “the way he threw strikes all spring.” Yost said Turnbow was scheduled to pitch the 11th inning if the game got that far.
“That’s what we have to do, get it to the closer,” Mota said. “We don’t have an eighth-inning guy, so we all have to be ready in the fifth. When the phone rings, it can be any one of us.”
The outings of Torres, Mota and Riske showed that the bullpen can bridge the innings between the starters and the closer, but it’s just a matter of if the closer can drive the final nail through.
None of the players seemed worried about that, though. Turnbow, who acknowledged that he knew what Gagne’s struggles were like, said it just was unfortunate that Gagne’s first blown save happened in his Brewers debut.
And if any of the coaches had real concerns about Gagne’s outing, they didn’t show it.
“I don’t put much stock in the first game,” Castro said. “Anybody can have a bad game. He just happened to have it in his first one.
“He’ll be fine.”
— Copyright (c) 2008, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/ Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services