MILWAUKEE For those who feel spring training is too long, Kyle Lohse is making a very compelling case in support of the argument.
After signing a three-year, 33 million deal with the Brewers in time to make just one spring training start, Lohse was expected to go through some early season hiccups as he settled in.
Instead, Lohse has had been in midseason form, showing impeccable command for any pitcher, let alone one who signed a week before Opening Day. In three starts, Lohse has allowed just six earned runs in 20 innings while walking just one. While it's still early, the veteran right-hander has been exactly what the Brewers have needed as he prepares to make his fourth start of the season Monday night in San Diego.
"I've felt good even though I didn't have a spring," Lohse said. "I think the most important thing for me was just doing my work. I don't need to see the reaction of big league hitters in spring training. I'm not a guy who is going out there to blow it by people. I'm going to locate and I can do that on the side or whatever."
Lohse has shown other pitchers on Milwaukee's staff that you don't need tremendous velocity to pitch well in the Major Leagues. According to Fangraphs.com, Lohse's average fastball velocity has been 89.4 mph this season, right around the big league average.
Pitchers who don't have the overpowering fastball or the pure stuff to get hitters out must know how to pitch by changing speeds and commanding the baseball or they won't last long in the big leagues. Lohse has pounded the strike zone this season, with a strike percentage of 70.5 percent and throwing first pitch strikes 65.8 percent of the time.
But Lohse hasn't always had the formula figured out. He struggled in his early days with Minnesota and became an average pitcher with Cincinnati and Philadelphia. It wasn't until Lohse got to St. Louis and worked with legendary pitching coach Dave Duncan that his eyes were opened to how he had to pitch to become a top of the rotation pitcher.
Not only has Lohse made an early impact on the field for the Brewers, but he's already stepped up as an important piece of the clubhouse and has shown a willingness to be a mentor to the young pitchers on Milwaukee's staff. He's been through the struggles inexperienced arms like Wily Peralta, Hiram Burgos and Mike Fiers are going to go through this season and in the near future. Having a pitcher who is willing to share his experiences and what helped him get to the pitcher he is today is valuable for an organization to have, especially the Brewers who have many young arms in the organization.
"What I see so far, he's a great teammate," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "He'll spend time with any of these guys to help them out. To talk about the game and how to get guys out, how to change speeds and when to go up in the strike zone. That's through experience and also through a guy who has good game instincts. He knows what to do in certain times.
"Guys need to see how the veterans pitch and how they are successful. And what they do when they get themselves in trouble and then talk about it and learn from it."
For all of the serious help Lohse has already been willing to provide the young pitchers on Milwaukee's staff, he's also been able to have some fun in the locker room. From tricking rookie outfielder Khris Davis into thinking he threw the baseball from his first career hit into the stands to messing with young shortstop Jean Segura in a postgame interview to even having a little fun with rookie right-hander Hiram Burgos' first big league start by placing multiple baseballs of his "firsts" during the game in his locker, Lohse has fit right into Milwaukee's clubhouse in a short period of time. Remember this is a guy who just met his teammates a month ago and is already one of the veteran leaders of the team.
"For (our young pitchers) to grow and develop into the pitchers we think they can be and into the Kyle Lohse's, then the mental part of it they have to figure things out," Roenicke said. "There's very few guys that physically are gifted enough to where they don't have to think and they can just go out there and blow everybody away with stuff. There's not many.
"They are going to struggle. I don't care how good you are, you are going to struggle. For them to be able to talk to somebody about it and he can help them out, it's important to us."
The starting rotation had its share of struggles and was unable to go deep into games and taxing the bullpen during Milwaukee's 2-8 start to the season, but has rebounded to produce good outings in six games of the seven-game winning streak.
"We weren't expecting to get off to the start we did, but I think it shows the quality that we can throw out there," Lohse said. "Our starting pitching, we just have to keep going out there and giving us a chance. Our offense is capable of getting big hits."
Maybe Monday night the offense will break through to support Lohse to give him the one thing that's alluded him with the Brewers: A win. He had a 3-0 lead in the sixth inning Wednesday against San Francisco, but was burned by a couple of seeing-eye singles and eventually got a no decision Milwaukee's 4-3 walk-off win.
"I go out there every inning like it's zero, zero," Lohse said. "I try to focus on what I can control, one pitch at a time, it doesn't matter what the score is. That's the best way for me to stay consistent and that's how I go about it.
"I always say you can't control certain things. I had control of (getting a win Wednesday) and didn't execute that one inning. That happens."
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