Notes: Miller comes to Estrada's rescue
Backup catcher not 100 percent, but returns to spell starter
MILWAUKEE -- Brewers backup catcher Damian Miller admitted his bruised right hand was still not 100 percent on Tuesday. But after the beating Johnny Estrada took the night before, it was time for Miller to jump back into the lineup.
"He got beat up pretty good," Miller said. "And I'm fine. Still not 100 percent, but good enough to play."
Miller was struck near the base of his right thumb by a foul tip in last Wednesday's game against the Braves. He suffered a hairline fracture of a bone near that spot in 1999 while with Arizona, but an X-ray taken last week was negative.
Estrada endured much worse in Monday's loss to the Cubs. He was struck by a Jason Marquis foul tip in a spot that left Estrada thankful for protective cups, and later in the game took another foul tip off the front of his mask. Estrada, who said he was rattled by the facial blow for about a half-inning, believes he has been battered more than usual this season.
"I get hit a lot, just because I'm a big, wide target," said Estrada, listed in the media guide at 5-foot-11 and 209 pounds. "I don't dodge many pitches. That's what people always tell me."
Estrada wears a hockey-style catcher's mask; Miller does not. Estrada believes the newer masks do a better job of absorbing blows like the one he took Monday.
Manager Ned Yost originally planned to start Miller in Wednesday's series finale, which would have meant a two-day break for Estrada because the team is off Thursday. Estrada is expected back in the lineup Wednesday against right-hander Carlos Zambrano.
Sliding: Even without the body blows, Tuesday might have been as good a day as any for Estrada to take a break.
The switch-hitter has collected just 24 hits in his last 105 at-bats (.229), dropping his average from .312 to .264. Estrada attributed the slide both to opposing pitchers making adjustments on him and poor plate discipline on his part. He has walked only four times this season.
"I've been swinging at a lot of [bad pitches]," he said. "That's just something I have to work on, as far as discipline and taking the walk when I can get them. But I'm an aggressive hitter. I've always been that way, all the years that I hit over .300."
Has Yost considered trying somebody else in the five-hole?
"Of course I've considered it," Yost said. "Every day, I go through certain things. There's a lot of things involved with it."
Yost likes Estrada hitting fifth because Estrada doesn't strike out often, and his ability to put the ball in play helps him drive in runs in RBI situations, the manager said. His switch-hitting ability makes opponents think twice before calling on a lefty reliever to face No. 4 hitter Prince Fielder and No. 6 hitter Geoff Jenkins.
"Johnny, at the beginning of the year, offensively, was a big part of our success," Yost said. "He's tailed off, like some guys have tailed off."
Despite his recent slump, Estrada has hit six home runs and is on pace for 20. He has topped 10 homers in a year just once, when he belted 11 with the Diamondbacks last year.
"People look at me, and they look at my size, and they say, 'Man, I think you could hit 20 home runs,'" Estrada said. "I always believed I could hit 20 home runs in this league."
Early and late: Dave Bush's disappointing loss on Monday followed a larger trend for the right-hander this season. He struggled a bit early, and struggled again late.
From pitches 1-30 and 91-plus, opponents have hit Bush at a .379 clip (39-for-103) with six home runs and 30 runs scored. From pitches 31-90, Bush opponents have hit .245 (40-for-163) with only three home runs and 14 runs scored.
On Monday, Bush surrendered one run but avoided further damage in the first inning, then was charged with three runs before recording an out in the seventh. The Brewers took a 2-1 lead into the seventh.
Yost, who got into a spirited discussion on this topic Tuesday, defended his decision to leave Bush in the game past his 90th pitch, even after he walked Cubs catcher Michael Barrett in a 10-pitch at-bat leading off the seventh. Mark DeRosa and Cesar Izturis followed with consecutive singles that tied the game at 2 before Yost went to the bullpen.
"Pitchers aren't robots," said Yost. "My job is, I've got to get that guy out one pitch before he gives it up. When is that one pitch coming? Because we don't have the crystal ball and we can't see into the future, there are other things we have to look at.
"You're trying to get as much as you can up to that one pitch out of [the starter], so that you don't wear your bullpen out down there."
Bush was still strong in the seventh inning, Yost said.
Unwanted visit: Former first-round Draft pick Mike Jones, a right-handed pitcher, will be in Milwaukee on Wednesday for an examination of his injured right elbow by head team physician William Raasch. Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery may be necessary to repair a torn ligament, and any surgical procedure would take place Thursday.
"It doesn't look good for Mike," general manager Doug Melvin said.
On deck: Zambrano irked some Brewers with what they viewed as disparaging comments after the teams' April 7 meeting at Miller Park, a Cubs win, but the Brewers evened the score with a 5-4 win over the Cubs and Zambrano on April 23 at Wrigley Field. Zambrano will be making his first start since his dugout and clubhouse skirmishes last week with Barrett.
Jeff Suppan will start for Milwaukee on Wednesday, aiming for his second straight win. He has a decision in all 12 of his starts this season.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Kelvin Ang is an associate reporter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.