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Scott Pianowski

Trevor Hoffman blows up again in the ninth

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We've had a few Trevor Hoffman(notes) fire drills in 2010, so a lot of this is going to be a review. Ninth-inning leads have been a nightmare for the Brewers through six weeks, but there isn't an obvious solution to the problem.

Hoffman's latest blown save came Tuesday at Cincinnati and it was a horror show. He faced five men and didn't retire any of them: Paul Janish(notes) singled; Scott Rolen(notes) lost a ball in the left field seats; Chris Heisey(notes) doubled; Brandon Phillips(notes) walked; and Joey Votto(notes) ended the game with a single. Hoffman's now got a 13.15 ERA, five blown saves and three losses – and the Brewers have a major dilemma on their hands.

Hoffman's sitting at 596 career saves and there's a countdown area in play at Miller Park – everyone's pulling for The Hoff to get to 600. But how long can you stick with a 42-year-old reliever on fumes? Hoffman hasn't been getting beaten on flukes – he's already allowed seven homers over 13 innings – and he's been scored on in 8-of-14 appearances. Bernie Brewer doesn't have the stomach for this.

Okay, so what other options are available for manager Ken Macha? Round up the usual suspects.

LaTroy Hawkins(notes) is on the disabled list with a sore shoulder and his rehab is progressing at a deliberate pace. Nothing happening here.

Todd Coffey(notes) has been the eighth-inning man with Hawkins out, and for the most part Coffey's been effective – he had 10 straight scoreless appearances into the middle of May. Alas, the Phillies got him for a run Sunday and the Reds threw a five-spot at him Monday, and the overall line doesn't look pretty (10 walks against nine strikeouts, 1.67 WHIP). He wouldn't be my pick, but it's not my ballclub.

Carlos Villanueva(notes) jumps off the page from a skills perspective – he's rolled up 27 strikeouts against eight walks over 20.2 innings, and the league is hitting just .182 against him. He's been used in the sixth and seventh inning for most of the year, so if you're following the usage-pattern theory (he who pitches the eighth gets promoted to the ninth), you wouldn't pick him over Coffey. Villanueva is just 5-for-12 in his career on save chances, but most of those opportunities have come before the ninth and with little wiggle room, so let's not overreact to that misleading stat. Set-up men are often given the chance to blow a save without the opportunity to finish it up.

Left-hander Manny Parra(notes) might be an option down the road, though he was pressed into a start Tuesday with Doug Davis(notes) hitting the disabled list. Parra is striking out three men for every walk and he's keeping the ball on the ground (59 percent). His 3.70 ERA is something of a fluke, driven by a .381 BABIP. Keep him in mind for later in the year.

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Rollie Fingers still has the mustache, but he's 63. Not an option.

As a Hail Mary, let's look down to the farm. Closer Chris Smith is a 29-year-old journeyman, but he's been getting the job done (1.84 ERA, 13 saves, 20 strikeouts against four walks over 14.2 innings). Lefty Zach Braddock has been electric for most of the spring (27 whiffs in 15 innings), but he lost his way during a crazy eight-run appearance on May 9. There's no evidence that the Brewers are going to grab either of these guys and immediately thrust them into the closer's chair, but for deeper formats they are names to be aware of.

Throw your dart, pick out your name. Who's your Tuesday pickup? What should Ken Macha do? Let's get through this together.

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Photo courtesy Associated Press

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