Trevor Hoffman suffered another blown save on Tuesday, but the Brewers have no plans to hand the baseball to anybody but Hoffman for the ninth inning.
“He’s the all-time saves leader,” Brewers manager Ken Macha said after Hoffman surrendered five runs in a 7-3 loss to the Pirates. “I mean, I think he’s got a pretty good feel for what he’s doing out there.”
Hoffman, 42, has a Major League record 594 saves but couldn’t get No. 595 on Tuesday, when he entered with a one-run lead and surrendered a tying home run to Pirates shortstop Ronny Cedeno on his second pitch. Five batters later, catcher Ryan Doumit hit a grand slam for a 7-3 Pirates win, snapping Milwaukee’s 22-game home winning streak against Pittsburgh. It was Hoffman’s third blown save this season, and they’ve all come in his last four chances.
The Brewers do have potential backup options in LaTroy Hawkins, who has 87 career saves including 11 last season as a fill-in for injured Astros closer Jose Valverde. Todd Coffey also has closer’s experience in Cincinnati’s Minor League system to go with 11 saves in the big leagues.
But Hoffman’s long track record of success affords him a very long leash, though Macha did concede that his early-season struggles qualify as “a concern.”
Equally confounding is why a man who built his Hall of Fame career on a devastating change-up throwing so many fastballs this season. Macha was asked that question on Tuesday and so was Hoffman, who said the issue is not necessarily pitch selection but fastball location.
Take the at-bat against Cedeno, who looked at a first-pitch strike from Hoffman to start the ninth inning.
“I felt like in that situation, getting ahead, 0-and-1, we could continue to expand with the fastball,” Hoffman said, “and the ball was not down and away.”
Instead, it was down Wisconsin Ave., as radio broadcaster Bob Uecker likes to say. All four of the hits off Hoffman were on fastballs, including Doumit’s second career grand slam on a 1-and-1 pitch.
Hoffman has surrendered five home runs in eight innings this season, versus two home runs in 54 innings in 2009, when Hoffman logged 37 saves with a 1.83 ERA. Four of the home runs against him this year have come off fastballs.
Not counting his four intentional balls on Tuesday, Hoffman threw 20 pitches against the Pirates and only three were changeups. Twelve were fastballs.
It followed a trend this season. According to the Web site fangraphs.com, Hoffman had thrown 69.1 percent fastballs entering his outing on Tuesday versus. 17.8 percent changeups. Compare that to last year, when he threw 56.1 percent fastballs (with the exact save average velocity — 85.5 mph — as this year) and 29.9 percent change-ups. For his career, Hoffman has thrown 62.8 percent fastballs and 29 percent changeups.
The trouble, according to Hoffman, is that he has not been able to get into the kind of two-strike situations this season in which the change-up is such an effective pitch. Thus, more fastballs.
“I’ve pigeonholed myself into situations where the hitter can be a little more patient and doesn’t have to offer at [the change-up],” Hoffman said. “That’s pitching behind in the count. You can’t do that in the big leagues, and the numbers will indicate that. [The change-up] is more of an ‘out’ pitch, not a ‘get back in the count’ pitch.”
It’s something that Macha and pitching coach Rick Peterson will look into.
“We’re going to have to talk to him, make sure he uses his pitches,” Macha said.
Hoffman insisted that his confidence remains high.
“And physically, I feel good, too,” he said.