Trevor Hoffman very likely reached the end of the line as the Brewers closer Tuesday afternoon in Cincinnati.
Hoffman entered the game in the bottom of the ninth, hoping to help his team snap a seven-game losing streak. He gave up a game-tying two-run homer to the second batter he saw, Scott Rolen, then went on to blow his fifth save chance of the season when Joey Votto belted a game-winning hit off the wall.
In 55 games last year, Hoffman allowed 11 runs and two homers. Baseball's all-time saves leader has pitched 14 games this season and has a horrific 1-3 record and 13.15 earned run average on his line. He has allowed 19 runs and seven homers -- three shy of his career high for a single season.
"I'm not getting outs," Hoffman told reporters after the game Tuesday. "There's not a lot to analyze about it. It's pretty obvious that I'm not getting it done. If there was an answer at this point in time, we would've found it."
If that outlook sounds bleak, there is a chance it will get even more depressing.
Brewers manager Ken Macha, who slept (or didn't) at his home outside Pittsburgh last night, will likely inform Hoffman this afternoon that the club will turn elsewhere in save situations.
Upon hearing the news, many frustrated fans will scream "What took so long?"
There are several reasons that Hoffman deserved the benefit of the doubt:
- Hoffman is the all-time saves leader in major league baseball.
- He turned in a remarkable season for Macha last year, and managers are a loyal breed.
- He is universally liked and respected throughout the game.
- The Brewers have been following his progress toward his 600th save with a giant countdown sign (which Hoffman doesn't like) at Miller Park.
- The Brewers' sporadic/erratic performance has forced Hoffman to go through long stretches of inactivity, which is known to reduce effectiveness for closers.
- Prior to the blowup on Tuesday, Hoffman had turned in three of four scoreless outings, sparking hope that he was ready for smoother sailing.
Now, there is a good chance you find yourself looking at those reasons and saying "So what?"
But, there is one more reason that Hoffman was allowed extra length on the leash.
The Brewers don't have a lot of options to replace him. Consider the list of candidates:
LaTroy Hawkins: Brought in to be Hoffman's main setup man, the veteran right-hander battled his own inconsistencies this season and is on the disabled list with a shoulder injury.
Todd Coffey: He may be the leading candidate, but his ERA jumped to 5.00 with a horrendous outing Monday night. In 18 innings this season, he has allowed 20 hits, and 10 walks. He has nine strikeouts. Coffey also has struggled against lefties during his career.
Carlos Villanueva: The guy who wondered if he would make the team during spring training is probably the best candidate in terms of statistics (3.05 ERA, 27 strikeouts, 8 walks). He's not a traditional closer, because he throws fewer fastballs than just about anybody in the game and is unlikely to make pinch hitters nervous. But, he could be effective if he keeps the ball in the park. He's allowed two homers in 20 2/3 innings, after allowing 13 bombs in 96 innings last year.
Claudio Vargas: Not likely.
Jeff Suppan: Even less likely.
Mitch Stetter: His sidewinding delivery lends itself to situational duty. Right-handed sluggers may have a field day against him.
Manny Parra: The lefty moved into the rotation on Tuesday and threw four innings. Closer may eventually be his best spot, but control is a giant issue that ratchets up his pitch counts. If he'd go after hitters, he could close. But, if he could do that, he'd also be a starter.
John Axford: The recently-promoted right-hander has a 93-mph fastball and turned in some good sequences during spring training, but he doesn't have a lot of experience and has struggled with control issues.
Zach Braddock: He's in Class AAA Nashville now, but the lefty could be waiting in the wings. He throws a heavy fastball and sharp slider. He could get a chance, but the odds are that it will come later in the season.
Given the options, a "closer by committee" setup seems likely until someone steps forward and takes hold of the job.
If Hoffman is out of the closer's role, the question becomes -- when will he pitch? The Brewers already have Suppan for "lost cause" situations. Since Hoffman's ninth-inning struggles aren't due to nerves, there is little hope that a shift to the seventh or eighth will spark a reversal of fortune.
The Brewers probably won't release him. He's too proud (and healthy) to retire. There is no telling what is coming, but at this point it doesn't look promising.
Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at OnMilwaukee.com. Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.