February 2009

"Hells Bells" go silent

Trevor Hoffman entered his first game as a Brewer to a familiar refrain, but the next time he hears AC/DC’s rock anthem “Hells Bells,” it will be in the regular season.

They tolled Wednesday, when Hoffman trotted in for the seventh inning of an eventual 3-3 tie with the A’s in the Cactus League opener. The scoreboard crew at Maryvale Baseball Park got hold of the song for Hoffman, who has used it in San Diego since 1998 and plans to import the tradition to Milwaukee. He doesn’t want to hear it again in Spring Training.

“It was nice for the first time,” Hoffman said. “But hopefully, we’ll be able to correct that.”

He worked around a double in a successful Brewers debut, which offered Hoffman and the Brewers’ athletic training staff their first opportunity to work together on a game day. I’ll have more about Hoffman’s extensive routine later today.

Gwynn still out; Gamel, Coffey to head out

Brewers outfielder Tony Gwynn, Jr. remains sidelined in camp and Mat Gamel and Todd Coffey are about to leave.

Gwynn continues to feel some pain in his right shoulder and will be limited from throwing until he’s completely pain-free. Manager Ken Macha said there was “some concern” that Gwynn is not improving more quickly, but that he was showing some signs of improvement. Gwynn will see the doctor again on Thursday.

Gamel and Coffey, meanwhile, were set to take a few days off to attend births back home. Coffey’s wife, Nikki, is to give birth to the couple’s third child and first son on Friday, the same day Gamel’s fiancee was to deliver the couple’s first child.

Game on: Feb. 25 vs. Oakland

The Brewers host the A’s on the opening day of the Cactus League, and here’s how the teams will line up:

Oakland A’s
Travis Buck     RF
Ryan Sweeney    CF
Matt Holliday   LF
Jason Giambi    1B
Kurt Suzuki      C
Bobby Crosby    SS
Jack Hannahan   3B
Eric Patterson  2B
Josh Outman      P

Milwaukee Brewers
Rickie Weeks    2B
J.J. Hardy      SS
Ryan Braun      LF
Prince Fielder  1B
Corey Hart      RF
Mike Cameron    CF
Casey McGehee   3B
Jason Kendall   C
Jeff Suppan     RHP

Trevor Hoffman is among the other pitchers scheduled to work for Milwaukee.  

Let the games begin

The main stadium is finally filled with ballplayers today for an intrasquad game that precedes Wednesday’s Cactus League opener. Some particulars about those games, starting with Wednesday’s tilt against the A’s:

– Pitchers on the list to throw Wednesday include starter Jeff Suppan, who will throw two innings or 30 pitches, followed by Dave Bush, who will work an inning in advance of his first start on Sunday. Trevor Hoffman is scheduled for his unofficial Brewers debut, followed by Eddie Morlan, Lindsay Gulin, Nick Green, Todd Coffey and Jorge Julio.

– Macha did not unveil his lineup in advance, but the Brewers’ regular starting position players will be at their spots with the exception of third baseman Bill Hall, who is cautiously working back from a partially torn calf muscle. Mike Lamb will likely start at third on Wednesday.

– A’s skipper Bob Geren called Macha on Monday to see if the Brewers were interested in employing the designated hitter. Macha declined, saying he wanted his pitchers to practice bunting.

– As for Tuesday’s intrasquad game, it’s Eddie’s Elite, managed by first base coach Ed Sedar, against Fischer’s Fanatistics, the home team managed by third base coach Brad Fischer. The game was scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. CT, and position players will bat once or twice before a Minor Leaguer takes over. 

Here are the starting lineups:

Eddie’s Elite
1. Corey Hart  RF
2. Craig Counsell  2B
3. Ryan Braun  LF
4. Prince Fielder  1B
5. Mike Rivera  C
6. Mat Gamel  DH
7. Vinny Rottino  3B
8. Alcides Escobar  SS
9. Chris Duffy  CF
Scheduled pitchers: LHP Chase Wright, RHP Tim Dillard, LHP Chris Narveson and LHP R.J. Swindle

Fischer’s Fantastics
1. Rickie Weeks  2B
2. Jason Kendall  C
3. Mike Cameron  CF
4. J.J. Hardy  SS
5. Trot Nixon  LF
6. Brad Nelson  RF
7. Casey McGehee  3B
8. Mike Lamb  1B
9. Tony Gwynn, Jr.  DH
Scheduled pitchers: RHP Braden Looper, RHP Mark
DiFelice, LHP Sam Narron and RHP Omar Aguilar

UPDATE at 1:45 p.m. CT:  It was nine up, nine down for Brewers pitchers before Hardy began 2009 the way he ended 2008. Hardy hit an 0-and-1 pitch from Dillard for a home run to left-center field leading off the bottom of the second inning. It’s 1-0, Fantastics.

And the regulars are already hitting the showers. Hart, Counsell, Braun, Weeks, Kendall, Cameron, Fielder and Rivera all left the game after one at-bat, making way for Minor Leaguers on loan from the other half of the complex.

UPDATE at 2:14 p.m. CT: With so many defensive changes in this game, it looks like Lamb has the MVP award locked up. Lamb made a diving stop at first base in the top of the second inning and shoveled to DiFelice for a tough out against Mat Gamel, then drove in the Fantastics’ second run in the bottom of the second inning with a sacrifice fly. That made it 2-0, but Scott Thorman got one run back in the top of the third inning with an RBI single.

UPDATE at 2:58 p.m. CT: Didn’t get this in before we had to meet Macha on the field, but 2-1 was the final score, with Lamb’s sacrifice fly representing the winning run for Fischer’s Fantastics. Time of game was 55 minutes, prompting calls for four-inning games throughout Spring Training. 

First cuts

On the eve of the Cactus League opener, the Brewers reassigned four players to Minor League camp on Tuesday including former first-round Draft pick Mark Rogers.

Besides Rogers, pitcher Alex Periard, outfielder Jason Bourgeois and catcher Martin Maldonado packed their backs and moved to the Minor League complex at Maryvale Baseball Park, where a mini-camp is underway. Injuries were behind the move for Rogers (shoulder), Periard (shoulder) and Bourgeois (broken pinkie), while Maldonado was sent out because the team has seven other catchers in camp.

Bourgeois will be called back to big league camp when his pinkie heals, manager Ken Macha said.

Former No. 1 pick Rogers progressing

Brewers skipper Ken Macha dropped a promising little nugget of news during his morning session with reporters. Mark Rogers, the former first-round Draft pick who hasn’t pitched in a game in two years, faced hitters this week at Maryvale Baseball Park.

Macha said Rogers appeared, “a little tentative,” but that’s not all too surprising given his long layoff because of shoulder woes. I’m hoping to chat with Mark after the workout today to see how it felt being back on the mound.

Same schedule for the Brewers against today: Stretch, station-to-station fundamental work, then live batting practice between pitchers and hitters. Few of the big league hitters are even swinging the bat because they prefer to track pitches during these early sessions to get back their timing.

Gallardo: 'No Classic for me'

There were no surprises when Brewers right-hander Yovani Gallardo gathered reporters around his locker on Saturday morning.

“No Classic for me,” he said.

Gallardo, Milwaukee’s ace in the making, decided to pass on a chance to play for Mexico in next month’s World Baseball Classic to protect the health of his knees. Gallardo suffered injuries to both knees last season and each required surgery, limiting him to four regular-season starts and two appearances in the playoffs.

“I just think it’s a good decision for me given being injured last year. Of course, I would have loved to go, and hopefully the opportunity will be there the next time around. But after thinking about it, things didn’t go the way I wanted them to last year and I really want to focus on what’s best for me and what’s best for the [Brewers].”

Gallardo informed Mexican legend Vinny Castilla of his decision on Friday night. Castillo is managing Team Mexico this year.

Gallardo’s decision means that only three members of big league camp will leave on March 1 to participate in the tournament. Ryan Braun will play for the U.S., and pitcher Mark DiFelice and catcher Vinny Rottino will play for Italy.

Eric Gagne, Alex Periard and R.J. Swindle passed on a chance to pitch for Team Canada (Periard because of shoulder tightness and Gagne and Swindle because they need to win a Brewers roster spot), and Jorge Julio declined Venezuela’s invitation to pitch. Bill Castro, who served as the pitching coach for the Dominican Republic in the inaugural Classic in 2006, also passed this time because the Brewers elevated him from bullpen coach to pitching coach for the coming season.

Hall hits, but he's doubtful for Cactus opener

The Brewers have accelerated third baseman Bill Hall’s rehabilitation from a left calf injury, but it appears he won’t be ready to play when the Cactus League schedule begins on Wednesday. 

“I suppose there’s always a possibility,” Hall said. “But Roger [Caplinger, Milwaukee’s head athletic trainer] doesn’t want me to rush back in. We’ve got a lot of games down here, and if I miss one week I don’t think it’s going to be that detrimental.”

Hall took swings in the batting cage Friday for the first time since he partially tore his calf muscle last week during a private workout before he reported to camp. An MRI scan revealed the tear, but by the weekend Hall and club medical officials were encouraged that it was not as bad as initially thought. That meant Hall would probably make it back well ahead of the original schedule, which predicted a 4-6 week layoff.

Besides the “soft toss” in the batting cage Friday morning, Hall ran on a treadmill and then took part in stretching and throwing drills with the rest of the team.

“It’s going really well,” he said. “I don’t feel anything in there now; it feels pretty normal.”

Emptying the notebook…

– Outfielder Ryan Braun is the Brewers’ resident fashion mogul. A story about his new clothing line, Remetee, will be on Brewers.com later today.

– The Brewers were unable to find a willing opponent for a “B” game on March 4 so manager Ken Macha instead scheduled an intrasquad game to keep his pitchers on track. For now, that’s left-hander Manny Parra’s day to pitch, and he will face a lineup of Minor Leaguers assembled by farm director Reid Nichols.

The Brewers do have a “B” game scheduled for March 10 in Surprise, Ariz. against the Rangers. They will play another intrasquad game on Tuesday in advance of the Feb. 25 Cactus League opener.

– Assistant general manager Gord Ash had his sit-down with Mat Gamel, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Macha was also there as the Brewers laid out their expectations for Gamel, who once again has a surprise injury. The good news is that his right shoulder impingement is not considered serious, and while Gamel is limited from throwing he was able to take part in batting practice on Thursday.

– Brewers pitchers faced hitters for the first time on Thursday. R.J. Swindle’s slow, looping curveball elicited some awkward swings, and some of the club’s baseball officials gathered to watch Trevor Hoffman face a group that included Brad Nelson.

– A downright skinny Ray King dropped by Maryvale Baseball Park and said he’s looking for a job. King, a left-handed reliever who pitched for the Brewers from 2000-2002 and again at the end of 2007, appeared in only 12 games last season for Washington but posted a 2.25 ERA in 32 games for the Astros’ Triple-A club and then pitched well in the Dominican Republic over the winter. He said he has been throwing at his nearby home in Litchfield park, Ariz. and is open to even a Triple-A job. The offseason market has not been kind to the 35-year-old.

“Crickets,” King said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

– Brewers Minor Leaguer Alex Periard was thrilled when the Brewers signed Eric Gagne and assigned him a spot in the clubhouse four lockers away. Periard and Gagne are both natives of Quebec, and Periard has never had a Franch-speaking teammate. Gagne has; he teamed with catcher Russell Martin in Los Angeles.

– Jeff Suppan took the “gold medal” in a bunting competition earlier this week between Brewers pitchers. Lindsay Gulin won the silver medal and Mark Rogers took home the bronze.

– Macha plans to control opponents’ running game from the bench this season. Last year, then-bench coach Ted Simmons allowed catchers Jason Kendall and Mike Rivera to do it themselves, meaning the players didn’t have to look into the dugout for signs calling for pickoffs and the like. Macha thinks coaches have a better perspective of what opponents are trying to do from the bench.

– Third base coach Brad Fisher started a new camp tradition on Thursday. Every morning before the Brewers stretch, one of the team’s Minor Leaguers will be subjected to a question and answer session. Judging by the laughter coming from the group that surrounded catching prospect Angel Salome, there were some good questions.

– The MLB Network is making the rounds in the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues and will feature the Brewers on Sunday, March 15 at 7 p.m. CT. Former FSN Wisconsin sideline reporter Trenni Kusnierek will file the report.

Gagne withdraws from Classic

Following his head instead of his heart, Eric Gagne reluctantly pulled out of the World Baseball Classic to focus on winning a job in the Brewers bullpen.

Gagne was on the provisional roster for Team Canada and wanted to play in the tournament, but that would mean departing Maryvale Baseball Park on March 1 and missing at minimum a week of camp. Canada plays in Pool C with the U.S., Venezuela and Italy and has a decent chance to advance past the first round, which would extend Gagne’s absence even longer.

That would have complicated things for the Brewers, who have to place Gagne on the 40-man roster by March 25 or offer him free agency. Gagne discussed his options with fellow Canuck and Brewers general manager Doug Melvin, who passed along word to Canadian officials that Gagne would stay in Phoenix.

Gagne, by the way, joined the legion of Brewers to undergo Lasik surgery over the winter, so we won’t see him trying to un-fog those goggles this season. Third baseman Bill Hall and pitcher Chris Capuano underwent similar procedures, joining catcher Jason Kendall, who did it last year.

Speaking of the Classic, there’s no official word yet from Yovani Gallardo, who is on Mexico’s provisional roster but has not formally decided whether he will play. Rosters for the tournament must be finalized by Tuesday.