Count me among those surprised to see Manny Parra exiting the bullpen door to protect a 3-2 Brewers lead in the 8th inning last night. With John Axford banished to the "get your shit together" role, set-up man Francisco Rodriguez was deemed closer. That left a void in the 8th inning, and although manager Ron Roenicke said there would be no defined roles outside of K-Rod pitching the 9th, the smart money was on some combination of Jose Veras and Kameron Loe holding down the set-up role. Both have had experience pitching in such situations during their careers, so it only made sense. Last night, however, Veras got the last out in the 7th inning, was pinch-hit for in the bottom of the 7th, and in trotted Manny Parra.
Parra has mostly been a man without a role this year. He was kind of a long-reliever to start the year, but Tim Dillard and Loe were both used in that role as well, making him redundant. He's lately been used in something of a LOOGY role, but that seemed like a waste of his abilities seeing as he's always been effective against right-handed hitters in his career. But his propensity for putting butts on bases has always curbed his potential for better things, and Brewers play-by-play guy Brain Anderson put it well when he said that it seems no one in baseball is more affected by being ahead or behind in the count than Manny Parra.
He's been good so far in July, but still looked like his old self during a 7th-inning outing against the Pirates last Friday. He put the first two hitters he faced on base and seemed incapable of throwing a strike, then got two strikeouts and a ground ball to get out of it. Last night though, he looked like a completely different pitcher. Facing the Cardinals' daunting trio of Allen Craig, Jon Jay, and Carlos Beltran, he went right after them, attacking with an assortment of pitches and not bailing when he did get behind in the count.
Parra punched out Craig on a nasty splitter, then used another splitter to get Jay to ground out weakly to first before whiffing Beltran on (surprise) a splitter (PITCH f/x calls it a changeup, I call PITCH f/x a liar). What was most impressive was his ability to throw his curveball for strikes. Generally it's just a show-me pitch to give the batter something to think about, but he used it to baffle Jay and surprise Craig for strike two. He dominated three good hitters and looked confident doing it.
Whether Parra will continue to see high-leverage situations like this is anyone's guess. It might have just been based on matchups, as Jay and Beltran were bad matchups for Loe and burning him on Craig only would have been a waste. And for all we know, Veras may have come back out for the 8th if he hadn't been lifted for a pinch-hitter. But last night may have been a clear indication that Parra is ready for a bigger role, and if so, could be a big key for the Brewers during the stretch run.