MILWAUKEE -- For the kid from Normal, Wednesday evening was anything but.
If there was an experience afforded a starting pitcher, Stewart ran through it, from a perfect first inning to a sucker-punch second when the Brewers scored five times to an impressive conclusion, when he settled himself down to give up no more runs the rest of the way.
For his effort, manager Dave Roberts said that Stewart would likely get at least one more start, expected to be on the upcoming homestand, probably Monday against the Baltimore Orioles.
“I think once we decided to get him up here we wanted to see how he would handle himself,” manager Dave Roberts said. “It’s definitely worthy of discussion. I mean, really. Five innings, seven [strikeouts] and I thought he composed himself well. You look at a couple pitches -- it could have been a completely different outing. As I sit here right now, I think [another start] is a high possibility.”
First starts have a way of speeding up on pitchers, and Stewart's debut was no different. His rocky second inning started in nightmare fashion with a dribbler to the right side to beat a defensive shift and a bloop single. Kirk Nieuwenhuis followed with an opposite-field blast to left, giving the Brewers a lead they never would relinquish. The Brewers cruised to a 7-0 victory.
“Those were two frustrating hits and I kind of let it get to me and left some balls up for them and they apparently don’t miss them up here, that’s for sure,” Stewart said. “It was a tough inning, but I was glad I was able to settle down after that.”
It could have gotten ugly. With some heavy bullpen use of late, Stewart could have been left to fend for himself like a wounded animal at the watering hole. Instead, the right-hander managed to face the minimum over the next three innings, even if he did give up two hits.
His ability to mix a mid-90s fastball with a plus changeup and a budding slider got him out of extreme danger and most likely on to a home start.
“I think I’ve grown as a pitcher,” Stewart said. “I haven’t been pitching long but I definitely have come a long way since I started. I wanted to go out there for the sixth, honestly. I wanted to keep putting my team in a position to win. It didn’t happen tonight, but I definitely want to see how far I can go into a game and compete my butt off.”
Gone are the days of being an infielder, like Stewart was at Illinois State. Drafted in the sixth round in 2014, the 24-year-old is a pitcher through and through, and some of the greats in the organization are taking notice.
Former Dodgers pitcher Orel Hershiser stopped by after the outing to hand out some compliments, as well as his phone number if Stewart needed anything.
Stewart beamed. And moments later he beamed again when he walked out of the clubhouse to a throng of cheering friends and family that made the four-hour drive north for the occasion. Stewart did himself proud, and if Roberts’ words or Hershiser’s digits didn’t tell him so, that greeting did.
This wasn’t Ross Stripling taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning of his debut, but there was legitimate promise shown from a pitcher that has been on a rocket this year, rising in less than three months from Single-A Rancho Cucamonga to Double-A Tulsa to Triple-A Oklahoma City and now to the Dodgers.
If he can help the Dodgers avoid their fifth-starter blues, they would be pleased. Since Stripling was sent down to slow down his rising inning totals, the Dodgers have gone 2-6 on days the No. 5 spot sees action, with those pitchers posting a combined 7.79 ERA.
Stewart will get a chance to return to Southern California on Wednesday night, not long after he left Rancho Cucamonga. This time he'll play in a stadium roughly nine times larger, but the expectation he will place on himself will be the same.
“It’s been a whirlwind, but this offseason I just prepared and worked my tail off,” he said. “I’m confident in my abilities and think I should be here and I am definitely glad I am.”