February 2009

Looper a last-minute scratch

Right-hander Braden Looper was scratched minutes before his scheduled Brewers debut Saturday when he tightness in the oblique muscle along his ribcage while warming up.

Looper was supposed to throw 35 pitches against the Angels at Maryvale Baseball Park, but a Brewers spokesperson announced his injury just after the National Anthem was performed. Right-hander Eddie Morlan, who was scheduled to work in relief, made the start.

The Brewers inked Looper on Feb. 12 to a one-year contract that pays a $4.75 million base salary. His durability was a selling point; Looper missed some time in 2007 with a shoulder injury but has made at least 30 starts in each of the last two seasons after making at least 60 relief appearances in eight consecutive seasons from 1999-2006.

Could Hart get a Classic call?

A number of fans e-mailed me this morning wondering whether Corey Hart might be considered as a replacement for Rockies right fielder Brad Hawpe on Team USA’s roster for the World Baseball Classic. The wishy-washy answer is maybe, but probably not.

Here’s what we do know: Hawpe is out with a hand injury, and USA Baseball executive director Paul Seiler said he would meet with Team USA manager Davey Johnson and other officials on Saturday night in Tampa to decide how to replace him.

One option is Cardinals outfielder Ryan Ludwick, who was on the preliminary roster but declined a spot on the final roster because he didn’t think he would get enough playing time. But according to Seiler, the rules allow teams to add up to five players who weren’t on the preliminary roster if they are replacing someone who is injured, and Hart will at least be in the conversation.

“Corey Hart is a good name, and we will throw that on the table when we talk,” Seiler said before boarding his flight to Florida.

One issue is that Hawpe bats left-handed, and Johnson may want another lefty bat in the lineup. There’s also the very important matter of whether Hart would be interested, and on Saturday at lunchtime, the answer was no.

“I think I’d rather stay here and get my work in,” he said.

Mark this in the category of “pure speculation,” but I wonder if Hart would have a different answer to Johnson or Seiler if a real opportunity presented itself. This entire post could be a moot point if USA Baseball opts to approach someone else.

Ryan Braun, meanwhile, is looking forward to his stint with Team USA. He just told me he plans to play all nine innings against the Angels today, and will depart tomorrow for Tampa to join his American teammates. Considering how thin the U.S. outfield ranks have suddenly become, Braun should have no trouble at all getting at-bats in the tournament. 

Hoffman gets his work in early

Closer Trevor Hoffman, who was penciled in for an inning of work against the Angels, opted instead for a 32-pitch bullpen session on a back mound at Maryvale Baseball Park on Thursday morning.

“He wanted to work on some things and felt more comfortable doing it back there,” Brewers pitching coach Bill Castro said. “That’s fine. He feels he gets more out of doing it that way.”

Unlike many veteran pitchers who use Spring Training to “work on things” and don’t necessarily care about the results, Hoffman said after his Cactus League debut Wednesday that he approaches games the same whether it’s February or October. If he’s pitching, he’s pitching to get outs.

The Brewers are allowing Hoffman to set his own spring schedule, and by moving his work to the bullpen, he actually increased his workload a bit. Hoffman was only scheduled for about 20 pitches in Thursday’s game.

“I actually stood in [the batter’s box] today when he was finishing up,” bullpen coach Stan Kyles said. “He looks good. I can see why he’s been pretty much unhittable in the ninth inning. It’s pretty impressive.”

Gamel is a proud papa

Brewers PR boss Mike Vassallo passed along the news that third baseman Mat Gamel and his fiancee, Julianne, welcomed a healthy baby girl, Audrey Maddox, into the world on Friday night in Jacksonville. Gamel was there for the birth of his first child, and is expected back in Brewers camp on Monday. 

Gameday: Feb. 28 vs. Angels

Tony Gwynn, Jr. has been limited in camp by a sore shoulder, but he’s healthy enough to hit and that’s exactly what he’ll be doing today. The Brewers will play a home game under American League rules, and he’s the lineup:

1. Rickie Weeks      2B
2. J.J. Hardy            SS
3. Ryan Braun         LF
4. Prince Fielder      1B
5. Corey Hart           RF
6. Mike Cameron     CF
7. Craig Counsell     3B
8. Jason Kendall      C
9. Tony Gwynn, Jr.   DH

Braden Looper makes his unofficial Brewers debut and is scheduled for 35 pitches. He’ll be followed by Nick Green, Eddie Morlan, Todd Coffey and Jorge Julio.

Expect Braun to play deeper into today’s game than the rest of the regulars. He departs tomorrow to join team USA for the World Baseball Classic.

Parra off to solid Cactus League start

Unlike Yovani Gallardo the day before, Brewers lefty Manny Parra cruised through his first Cactus League start.

Parra faced seven batters in two scoreless innings, holding the A’s to one hit with one strikeout. Mark DiFelice followed and posted a similar line (minus the strikeout) and Omar Aguilar worked a scoreless inning with one hit to keep the A’s scoreless through the end of the fifth inning.

A’s pitchers were just as sharp, holding the Brewers hitless until Craig Counsell’s two-out single in the fifth inning. Corey Hart snapped the scoreless tie with an RBI single in the sixth, but the A’s got the run back against R.J. Swindle in the bottom of the inning.

Tied at 1 going to the seventh…

Skaalen: Crew's plate discipline 'why I'm sitting here right now'

Jim Skaalen got off a good line while talking about his new job as the Oakland A’s hitting coach. The A’s are well-known for their focus on pitch selection and on-base percentage, qualities that often eluded Brewers hitters under Skaalen’s watch. 

“All that stuff, believe it or not, was also stressed in Milwaukee,” Skaalen said Friday, before the Brewers and A’s squared off for the second time in three days. “It didn’t materialize as consistently as I liked, which is probably why I’m sitting here right now.”

He was sitting in Oakland’s dugout on Friday instead of Milwaukee’s mostly because of last September, when the Brewers slumped to a .227 team batting average and averaged 3.6 runs per game. In the first five months of the season, they batted .257 and averaged 4.8 runs per game.

“As disappointed and sad as I was to get the news [of his dismissal], I couldn’t be happier with the development and the progress of those guys over there,” Skaalen said. “The core of that team, I feel like I played some role in helping them get to where they are at. … I don’t know because I wasn’t told much, but I think that Doug [Melvin, Milwaukee’s general manager] just felt the need for them to hear somebody new.”

Does he have answers for Milwaukee’s team-wide September swoon?

“I don’t even have an answer for it other than most of the players just had a tough time from keeping from doing too much,” Skaalen said. “They wanted to get there [to the postseason]. … It happens. Try as I might, those kids were in the cage and I’m trying to refocus their mindset, get them through the last month, it was just difficult. It’s easy in the cage, but when you’re playing big game after big game, that’s just human nature. Thank goodness for Prince [Fielder] and J.J. [Hardy] did OK, and thank goodness for CC [Sabathia] and the pitching staff.”


Gameday: Feb. 27 at A's

Shortstop J.J. Hardy, the Brewers’ hottest hitter, gets the day off today as the team travels for a rematch against the A’s at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. The teams played to a 3-3 tie in the Cactus League opener Wednesday.

Left fielder Ryan Braun also gets the day off — manager Ken Macha said he let Braun decide whether he wanted a break — and so does second baseman Rickie Weeks, but Cactus League iron man Casey McGehee keeps his games played streak alive.

1. Jason Kendall      C
2. Chris Duffy          CF
3. Corey Hart           RF
4. Prince Fielder      1B
5. Trot Nixon            LF
6. Casey McGehee  3B
7. Craig Counsell     2B
8. Mike Lamb           DH
9. Alcides Escobar   SS

Manny Parra is scheduled to start and is penciled in for 30 pitches. Hopefully he fares better than Yovani Gallardo did Thursday against the Cubs, when Gallardo needed 28 pitches to get through a scoreless inning of work.

Following Parra will be Mark DiFelice, Chase Wright, Omar Aguilar, R.J. Swindle and Chris Narveson.

One little note from the morning clubhouse access: Doctors postponed Nikki Coffey’s childbirth, so Brewers reliever Todd Coffey will stick around camp for one more week before traveling home to North Carolina. He was originally scheduled to leave on Thursday afternoon.  Todd Coffey is scheduled to pitch in Saturday’s game.

Brewers on the MLB Network

MLB Network is scheduled to air six Brewers Spring Training games including four live broadcasts. Here’s the lineup:

March 23 – Brewers at Rockies, 4 p.m. CT
March 27 – Brewers at Rangers, 8 p.m. CT (live)
March 31 – Brewers at Padres, 9 p.m. CT (live)
April 1 – Brewers vs. Diamondbacks, 8 p.m. CT
April 2 – Brewers at White Sox, 2 p.m. CT (live)
April 4 – Brewers at Dodgers, 9 p.m. CT (live)

Note that the March 23 and March 31 games will also air on FS Wisconsin and the April 1 game will air in Milwaukee on WMLW.

One more broadcasting note: The Brewers Radio Network will not carry Friday’s game, so the TV team of Brian Anderson and Bill Schroeder will be behind the mic for their first MLB.com webcast when the Brewers travel to Phoenix Municipal Stadium to face the A’s.

Gameday: Feb 26 at Cubs

Prince Fielder, Corey Hart and Jason Kendall have the day off as the Brewers travel to Mesa, Ariz. to face the Cubs, but former Cub Casey McGehee makes his second straight start and will get a chance to face the team that cut him loose this winter.

Here’s the lineup:

1. Rickie Weeks       2B
2. Chris Duffy           RF
3. J.J. Hardy            SS
4. Ryan Braun          LF
5. Mike Cameron      CF
6. Mike Rivera          C
7. Brad Nelson         1B
8. Casey McGehee   3B
9. Yovani Gallardo    RHP

Also scheduled to pitch today is Carlos Villanueva, Mitch Stetter, Tim Dillard, Seth McClung, Chris Narveson, Joe Bateman and Sam Narron. The scheduled Cubs starter is Sean Marshall.

As far as the lineup, Duffy in right field is interesting, and it’s the first example of Macha getting creative to fill innings with so few outfielders in camp. That number will further dwindle on Sunday when Braun departs for the World Baseball Classic, meaning more playing time for Duffy, Trot Nixon and Minor League outfielders taking part in the team’s mini-camp.

One injury note: Outfielder Tony Gwynn, Jr. said his cell phone lit up Wednesday night when sports networks started scrolling the news that he expects to miss up to a month of Spring Training with his sore right shoulder. Gwynn said his comments were taken way out of context by the Associated Press reporter who was on-site Wednesday, and in fact Gwynn took part in some throwing drills for the first time Thursday morning and reported continued improvement. He thinks he might miss another 3-4 days, not a month.

After talking with Macha this morning, let’s just say that it would behoove Gwynn to get healthy by the time Braun leaves camp.