On April 20, Chris Narveson had the Phillies looking foolish through 5 innings. Going up against Cliff Lee, Narveson didn’t allow a hit until he gave up a 2-out double to John Mayberry in the 5th. Prior to the double, the only other baserunner he allowed was a leadoff walk in the 4th that was quickly erased with a double play.
The Brewers’ offense managed to scratch together three runs against Lee, and with Narveson cruising, it looked like the Brewers were on their way to finishing a sweep against the super-hyped Phils.
Then, of course, the 6th inning happened. Narveson led off the inning with a walk of Wilson Valdez. After getting Michael Martinez to fly out, Shane Victorino singled to right on a 3-2 pitch, and then Placido Polanco followed that up by homering on a 1-2 pitch. Narveson was able to escape the inning without further damage (not before walking Ryan Howard and giving up a single to Ben Francisco), but the Brewers’ lead had already slipped away.
Flash forward to Thursday night’s game. Narveson is cruising early once again, and again doesn’t give up his first hit until the 5th inning. Mayberry, again, was the one to break up the no-hit bid. The 6th inning was, again, a problem (granted, Carlos Gomez taking a bad route factored into this meltdown).
It’s a little odd just how similar Narveson’s two starts against Philadelphia have looked, but it’s not a coincidence that things started to go awry the third time through the order. He’s a good fifth starter by league standards, but he’s still a fifth starter. Those guys tend to get figured out over the course of a game.
This season, Narveson has held opponents to a .237/.289/.363 line in their first plate appearance of the game. During the second trip through the order, that line goes up to .242/.307/.394 — not as good, but solid enough for a back-end starter. Once batters see Narveson for a third time, though, the average line jumps to .323/.408/.492. Yeah, both the OBP and the SLG jump around 100 points. It’s normal for the numbers of any starter to jump the third time through the order, but Narveson’s numbers stand out compared to the other members of the Brewers’ rotation.
That doesn’t mean he should be replaced in the five-man rotation or that he shouldn’t be brought back next year. It just means that perhaps Ron Roenicke should be a little more proactive in the future when it comes to Narveson hitting the 5th or 6th inning. Thursday was a bit of a different situation since he already notched two outs in the 6th before things got bad (and a blown third out call at first could have saved a few runs), but at the same time it was clear that Narveson was struggling to make the pitches he needed to make and wasn’t fooling anyone.