CINCINNATI -- Despite the best record in baseball and a stacked roster filled with many players off to their best career starts, the Brewers do, like all teams, have some issues.
The one that's been talked about the most? The bullpen.
But not in a garden-variety "the bullpen is overworked" way. Yes, it's logged a lot of innings. And yes, the Brewers are being proactive in monitoring the relievers' work. But it's not based on performance -- in fact, the bullpen is one of many bright spots of this surging team. The Brewers' goal, for now, is to not burn out a relief corps that is on pace to far exceed a reasonable workload.
In that vein, it's probably safe to consider Thursday's 8-3 loss to the Reds -- a scoring differential largely due to the 'pen -- as a mere speed bump in an otherwise smooth ride through the first part of the season.
That said, it's impossible to ignore one simple fact: the bullpen, on this cool night at Great American Ball Park, was not good.
It started in the eighth, with the game locked up at 3. Brayan Pena, pinch-hitting for Homer Bailey and facing right-hander Jim Henderson, sent a line drive down the right-field line, where it bounced off the yellow padding and over the wall for a two-run home run.
"That was pretty much an in-the-wheelhouse slider for him, first pitch," Henderson said. "The scouting report, you can throw that out the window when you throw a bad pitch like that."
The eighth inning produced five runs for the Reds, putting an otherwise close game out of reach. Rob Wooten, called up earlier in the day to add a fresh arm to the 'pen, walked in a run and hit a batter before mercifully ending the inning with a groundout.
Still, although a reliever -- in this case, Henderson -- absorbed the loss, the Brewers' starting pitcher saw this one as mostly his fault.
"I made a lot of bad pitches today," said Marco Estrada, who yielded three runs over six innings. "I walked four guys, which is something that I normally don't do. I knew it was going to be a battle. I didn't make the pitches today and got hurt twice."
Tucker Barnhart launched a leadoff homer off Estrada in the fifth inning, and Todd Frazier connected for a two-run shot in the sixth. Neither seemed to be hit particularly well, but at the Reds' ballpark, making perfect contact isn't always necessary to send one flying.
"One was actually a decent pitch -- to Frazier," Estrada said. "He got his head out and somehow it got up in the air and it went over. There's nothing you can do about that stuff. I have to make better pitches. I got away with way too much today, and I've got to do a better job."
As manager Ron Roenicke put it, the ball "carries very well" at Great American Ball Park.
"I didn't think either was going to be a home run," he said. "But they squared them up. They were just out in front."
This wasn't excuse-making. Frazier pretty much had the same opinion.
"This game is amazing," he said. "The ball I hit, I thought it was a pop fly. I kind of walked to first, thinking, 'Darn, if I just waited a little bit longer,' and it went out. You never know in this game. That's the best thing about it."
In his two previous starts, Estrada issued no walks, and he had not walked more than three batters in an outing this year.
"His command was not the same today," Roenicke said. "He's usually lights out with the fastball wherever he wants to throw it. His changeup's always good. The fastball command wasn't where it usually is, and he was kind of forced to throw more changeups in a row to people. He's been pitching great. He just wasn't quite on today."
Said Estrada: "They've got a good team. If I'm not making pitches, a team like that's going to make me pay for it, which they did. They've got a good lineup, a good team. If I made my pitches, we could have won today. We scored three off Bailey, and that should have been enough."