Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Wade Miley reacts after giving up a walk during the first inning of Game 5 of the National League Championship Series baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

After Counsell uses Miley as decoy, Brewers 'pen cracks late

October 17, 2018 - 8:10 pm

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Wade Miley threw just five pitches in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series before Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell emerged from the dugout and abruptly removed his starter.

Oddly enough, five innings after this extraordinary bit of subterfuge, Counsell probably waited a bit too long to go to his bullpen again.

Brandon Woodruff pitched 5 1/3 innings of highly unusual relief against the Dodgers on Wednesday, but the right-hander gave up Max Muncy's tiebreaking RBI single in the sixth inning of Los Angeles' 5-2 victory to put the Brewers on the brink of playoff elimination.

Counsell unveiled his latest creative usage of his bullpen at a pivotal point in the series, but it didn't stop the Brewers from losing for the third time in four games after a 12-game winning streak that propelled them deep into the postseason.

A surprise bullpen game worked well, until it didn't.

Woodruff escaped a first-inning jam and kept the Dodgers in check until the fifth, when he gave up Austin Barnes' tying single.

But in the sixth, Woodruff allowed Justin Turner's leadoff single and hit Manny Machado with a pitch. Muncy chased him with a single that rocked a Chavez Ravine crowd eager to see the World Series again next week.

Counsell's options were limited from there after such aggressive bullpen usage. Corbin Burnes pitched on consecutive days for just the fifth time in his pro career and gave up an RBI single to Yasiel Puig. Veteran righty Joakim Soria worked for the third time in three days and was charged with two runs while getting one out.

Milwaukee's fearsome bullpen has been responsible for 14 of the Dodgers' 16 runs in the series, and 12 of those have come in the sixth inning or later.

Not many pitching strategies could make up for an offense that managed just three runs in the past 24 innings at Dodger Stadium.

But Counsell caught nearly everyone off-guard when he took a season of bullpen tinkering to a new level.

The left-handed Miley faced only Cody Bellinger in the first inning, walking the young slugger on five pitches. Counsell popped onto the field and called for Woodruff to face the rest of a Los Angeles lineup featuring six right-handed batters.

Fox Sports reported during its broadcast that a short start for Miley was the plan all along for Counsell, who had used his bullpen liberally and unconventionally throughout the Brewers' remarkable season.

Miley will start Game 6 in Milwaukee on Friday when the Brewers attempt to avoid elimination.

Miley was pitching on three days' rest in Game 5 after he made it into the sixth inning of Game 2 on Saturday. Counsell decided to give him a short workday in preparation for a longer start Friday.

Woodruff hadn't pitched more than four innings in a game since May 16, but he was ready to go long in Game 5 after not pitching for Milwaukee since Game 1.

He even contributed at the plate against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw for the second time in the NLCS. Woodruff homered off Kershaw in Game 1 in Milwaukee, becoming the third relief pitcher to homer in a postseason game.

With a runner on first and one out in the third in Game 5, Woodruff drew a five-pitch walk from a visibly annoyed Kershaw, who couldn't hit his spots. Lorenzo Cain then delivered an RBI double, although Woodruff eventually was stranded at third.

But the Brewers made 18 consecutive outs between the third inning and a ninth-inning mini-rally, undoing their pitching staff's resourceful performance.

Counsell already was at the vanguard of the recent wave of managers figuring out new ways to use their bullpens, along with Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash.

Cash regularly used an "opener" for one inning before going to his bullpen this season, a strategy other clubs began to adopt down the stretch. He took steps not to deceive opponents with the approach, though, routinely texting opposing managers as soon as he decided on his first pitcher so they could plot out their lineups accordingly.

No Milwaukee starter had recorded an out in the sixth inning during this postseason until Miley did it in Game 2 of the NLCS.

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