Steady Lohse worth Brewers' big investment
After Milwaukee gave up a first-round pick, veteran right-hander has delivered
CHICAGO -- You never know when aggressiveness will be rewarded.
Kyle Lohse is proving that for the Brewers this season. The veteran they paid so heavily to get a year ago has been one of the quiet keys to the 27-15 start that has been one of the most captivating stories in baseball.
Who knows? The way Lohse is pitching, he could be this season's Jason Grilli -- a first-time All-Star at age 35.
Lohse has been the glue guy in manager Ron Roenicke's starting rotation, a steadying presence in the middle of talented pitchers like Yovani Gallardo, Matt Garza, Wily Peralta and Marco Estrada. That's exactly what owner Mark Attanasio and general manager Doug Melvin were hoping Lohse would be when they rescued him from qualifying-offer limbo in late March 2013, giving up a first-round pick in addition to the three-year, $33 million commitment.
That seemed like a lot of heavy lifting for nothing when Ryan Braun was suspended for his role in the Biogenesis scandal and the Brew Crew went 74-88. But Lohse says now that amid the ashes of that season, he and his teammates were laying the foundation for their unexpected success this year.
"Last year was a good thing to go through with some of the young guys that got experience," Lohse said Friday. "I was able to get to know them, talk to them about things I'd gone through. It was a tough thing to go through, but if you can come through that and play as well as we did in the second half, with all the things going on around us, I think that's a real key with what we're doing now. We kind of weathered the storm, so to speak."
Lohse weathered a literal storm in beating the Cubs, 4-3, at Wrigley Field on Friday. It was 38 degrees and misting rain at game time, and the day barely improved before the last out. Then Lohse allowed early home runs to Junior Lake and Darwin Barney. But something kicked in and he retired the last 13 hitters he faced before Roenicke turned the one-run lead over to his bullpen in the eighth inning.
"Kyle was a little bit off those first few innings, then he got it going late, probably the last inning had his best stuff and command," Roenicke said. "We need to get him going early. Weather may have had something to do with that today."
The Brewers raised their record to 7-2 in Lohse's nine starts. He's 5-1 with a 2.88 ERA, averaging almost 6 2/3 innings per start.
This is exactly what agent Scott Boras said he could do for a contender when Lohse was unsigned and working out on his own while other Major Leaguers prepared for the 2013 season.
"He's a guy who every fifth day, we usually know what we're going to get from him," Roenicke said. "That's why today was so different from what we usually see. The consistency of the command is what has been so big. It may change with a couple of his pitches, but his fastball, slider command are always great. Then it changes curveball, changeup. Some games one is better than the other. Knowing that when he goes out, we're going to get a good game from him, we're going to go deep with him is a good feeling, especially when your bullpen has been worked hard."
Knowing he operated with little margin for error against the Cubs' Jeff Samardzija, Lohse said he made an adjustment after allowing a two-run homer to Barney and a solo shot to Lake. Both were on sinkers that he left up and over the middle of the plate. Lohse said he realized he was rushing his pitches and forced himself to stay back as he delivered the ball.
"You've been around long enough, you figure out how to grind through it," Lohse said. "Figure out what you need to do to get your body in the right position to make pitches."
The owner of a career 4.31 ERA, Lohse has spent more time at the back of the rotation than near the front. But Roenicke slotted him into the No. 2 spot, right behind Gallardo, this season. It was a reward for the improvement Lohse has made in his 30s, much of it when he was working with pitching coach Dave Duncan in St. Louis.
Lohse is proud that he's good for six or seven strong innings every time out. He loves it when his teammates ask him for advice.
"I wasn't always [consistent] either," Lohse said. "Earlier in my career, when I was [the age of Gallardo, Peralta and Estrada], I was [inconsistent]. Not everything I do is going to work for them, but you have to figure out how and what it takes to be consistent. That's what we're all striving for, no matter what your position, what you're doing. It seems like now everybody in the rotation is doing that. It's a big thing to be able to keep your team in the game, make pitches, and not worry about other stuff, what's going on. We're just doing it."
With a huge fan base in Milwaukee, Attanasio and his front office are always looking for ways to improve their team. They followed the signing of Lohse by investing in ex-Cub Garza last winter. He'll face his former team on Saturday, and knowing his personality, sparks could fly.
Lohse isn't like that. He was known for his impersonations of Tony La Russa in St. Louis, which put smiles on the faces of teammates too. La Russa even thought it was funny.
When you can pitch as steadily as Lohse and provide comic relief, you've really got something. The Brewers felt it was worth the 17th pick in the Draft to add Lohse.
He's making them feel good about the gamble.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.